Trump Speech Was a ‘Shakedown’ Aimed at Grabbing Dictatorial Power: Authoritarianism Expert
President Donald Trump’s first Oval Office address was meant to further consolidate his power, according to an authoritarian expert.
Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and researcher who has studied autocratic regimes in Central Asia, compared Tuesday’s speech to a “hostage video,” with Americans as his “captive audience,” in a new essay published by The Globe and Mail.
“We watched because the stakes felt too high to turn away,” Kendzior wrote. “We watched because Mr. Trump has taunted us with talk of declaring a ‘national emergency’ – an act which gives him the power to do things like kill the internet, freeze bank accounts, and turn military troops into a domestic police force. We watched because Mr. Trump has long applauded death through his praise of dictators and criminals. We watched because the path to American autocracy was laid out upon his election, and we wanted to know which victims were next.”
Kendzior said the president was attempting to “pad a power-grab as a policy proposal” by hyping misleading statistics that radically overstate the threat from Central American immigrants, which he grotesquely twisted into a humanitarian framework.
She said the only threat Trump truly cares about comes from Democrats, who might have enough legislative power to stop his autocratic consolidation of power.
“The only security Mr. Trump is concerned with is his own,” Kendzior wrote. “With the government shut down, he can capitalize on chaos and operate with greater impunity. His speech was not a public address: it was a shakedown proclamation built on venom and vengeance. It will not be his last.”
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‘Hairsplitting Quibble’: Former US Attorney Scorches Durham for Focusing on ‘Useful Scapegoat’ While Ignoring Facts
Barb McQuade, the former U.S. Attorney and current professor of law, is taking now-former Special Counsel John Durham to the woodshed for his 306-page report publicly released Monday, the final work product of his failed four-year, multi-million dollar probe into the Dept. of Justice’s decision to investigate Russia’s efforts to attack the 2016 presidential election, and any involvement Donald Trump and his campaign may have had with that enemy foreign power.
Unlike then-Attorney General Bill Barr‘s fraudulent letter allegedly previewing the 2019 Mueller Report, a letter that so grossly mischaracterized that Special Counsel’s findings one federal judge called it “distorted” and “misleading,” Attorney General Merrick Garland offered neither introduction nor pushback, allowing Durham’s report to stand or fall on its own.
And fall it has.
In addition to initial condemnation from legal and political experts, journalists and professors who decimated Durham’s claims when the report became public Monday afternoon (and allegedly first leaked to a far-right wing news outlet), McQuade Tuesday explained in detail some of the duplicitous decision, errors, and omissions Durham made in what from the start was, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has said, “an effort to undermine the Russia investigation.”
In short, the Durham report was designed to be an investigation to prove Donald Trump’s false claims there was a “Russia hoax” and the FBI’s investigation was a “witch hunt.”
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In her 20-point Twitter thread, McQuade notes, “the Durham Report provides fuel for the false claim that the Russia probe was a hoax. Don’t fall for it. While Mueller found no conspiracy, he concluded that Russia worked to help Trump become president.”
“And rather than report Russia’s overtures to FBI, Trump’s campaign was willing to accept the help,” says McQuade, who is also a popular MSNBC legal analyst and the author of the upcoming book, “Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America.”
“Like Barr,” she says, “Durham says Mueller found no conspiracy between Trump and Russia but fails to mention the 2016 Trump Tower meeting to receive dirt on Clinton, sharing of polling data with Russian intel officer Konstantin Kilimnik, and coordinating of messaging with Wikileaks.”
“Durham also ignores Trump’s public statement, ‘Russia, if you’re listening …’ asking them to find Clinton’s missing emails, and the subsequent release of hacked emails hours after the release of the Access Hollywood tape,” she adds.
McQuade actually begins her dissection of Durham’s report with this: “After four years, review of 1 million documents, 490 interviews, his conclusion is that FBI should have opened a preliminary investigation (PI) instead of a full investigation (FI) in 2016.”
Fortunately, McQuade was a U.S. Attorney for seven years, and understands these nuances.
“The only difference between FI and PI is the duration and the authorities that may be used. This is a hairsplitting quibble, and one on which FBI officials routinely disagree,” she explains.
“Durham also minimizes the reasons FBI was alarmed enough to open a FI in 2016 based on information received from Australian diplomats about Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos,” she says.
“According to Aussies, Papadopoulos said, ‘Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs Clinton.'”
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And apparently unlike Durham, McQuade puts events into context.
“Papadopoulos’s statement came right after the DNC hack. FBI was properly concerned about Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election. This was an investigation into RUSSIA,” she declares.
More context from McQuade:
“Trump had other concerning ties to Russians: real estate deals, Miss Universe Pageant, loans from Russian lenders, Trump Tower Moscow project. Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort had lobbied for pro-Russian oligarchs.”
“Trump campaign members also had ties to Russia. Mike Flynn was paid $45,000 by Russia Today in 2015 for a speech he gave at a banquet where he sat next to Putin. He later lied to FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador about sanctions during the transition.”
“Carter Page had been seen meeting with Russian intel officers. It now appears that he was unaware that they were trying to recruit him. Papadopoulos worked to set up a meeting with Putin.”
Others are expressing frustration with the Durham report, including Rachel Cohen, the communications director for U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). Warner was the Vice Chairman (and is now Chairman) of the Senate Intelligence Committee when it “spent 3.5 years reviewing millions of documents and interviewing hundreds of witnesses and concluded the FBI had ample cause for concern in 2016. SSCI [U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] was led by Republicans at the time,” she notes.
Exasperated, she asks, “so we’re just doomed to do this again and again forever until we all die, am i getting that right?”
Pointing to this report, Cohen also rightly points out that the Dept. of Justice Inspector General “also investigated this and found no evidence of political bias in the launch of the initial FBI investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign.”
Meanwhile, McQuade returns to the infamous Steele Dossier, which, despite what many on the right have claimed, the Dossier was not fully debunked or disproved.
“Durham criticizes the FBI for relying on the Steele Dossier for the Carter Page FISA. Steele Dossier was not the basis for opening the investigation, but it makes for a useful scapegoat to blur that fact.”
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It also makes good propaganda.
U.S. Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), a former Assistant U.S. Attorney SDNY under Preet Bharara, Tuesday weighed in on the Steele Dossier aspect of Durham’s report.
“The Steele Dossier was irrelevant to the origination of the Russia investigation and irrelevant to the Mueller Report,” he tweeted. “Yet Durham spent the majority of his ‘report’ on it. Having failed as a prosecutor, Durham morphed into a bad politician in a prosecutor’s clothes.”
But again, the Steele Dossier, while not the basis for opening the investigation into Russia and Trump, did have useful information.
McQuade observes, “some aspects of Steele Dossier were confirmed by Mueller and DNI: Putin favored Trump and was working to influence the election in Trump’s favor and against Clinton. It also contained unconfirmed information that could have seriously compromised Trump as president.”
“Failing to investigate these ties would have been a breach of duty by FBI,” she concludes. “This was an investigation into RUSSIA. Russia was the threat and the focus. Trump was just Russia’s useful idiot.”
‘Circle of Garbage’: Experts Slam Durham ‘Wild Goose Chase’ as Investigation Into DOJ Trump-Russia Probe Ends With ‘Bupkis’
The four-year Trump-era probe examining why the FBI launched an investigation into Donald Trump, his 2016 campaign, and Russia’s efforts to attack the presidential election to help the GOP nominee win concluded Monday with the publication of a 306-page report that “appeared to show little substantial new information,” as The New York Times reports.
Former U.S. Attorney John Durham, once considered a well-regarded prosecutor, was assigned to lead the investigation by then-Attorney General Bill Barr four years ago, almost to the day. In October of 2020, Barr secretly altered Durham’s assignment, appointing him as a Special Counsel just weeks before the presidential election, ensuring the investigation would continue regardless of which party won the White House.
Legal and public policy experts, journalists, and political commentators are mocking Durham and his investigation, with several pointing out that Durham’s conclusions do not match the legal record, including sworn testimony.
“Special counsel John Durham concluded that the FBI should never have launched a full investigation into connections between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, according to a report compiled over three years by the Trump-administration appointee and released on Monday,” CNN reported, pointing to only the time Durham served as a Special Counsel.
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But experts say – and prove – the report obscures the actual facts.
MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, while reporting the breaking news of the release of Durham’s final report, interrupted herself to do some “fact-checking in real time.”
“Today’s report, NBC News notes, ‘accuses the FBI of acting negligently by opening the investigation based on big and insufficient information in a sweeping 300-page report made public Monday. This is likely to loom larger in politics than in law. I’m going to pause right here,” Wallace told viewers. “I’m going to keep reading you NBC’s reporting but I’m going to try to do some real-time fact-checking. Now that finding by Mr. Durham is contradicted by DOJ’s own IG, Mr. Horowitz, in 2019, who found that the investigation was opened was predicated, it was necessary, and that there was no bias.”
“Now, NBC News goes on to report that Durham finds that the FBI made a series of mistakes, including what I just talked about, the decision to open the Trump-Russia probe not being justified. Now the end of Donald Trump and Bill Barr’s term, their quest to investigate the Justice Department is where we begin today with these clashing narratives right the Durham report which contradicts another inspector general report already in the public sphere and on the record.”
Nicolle Wallace fact-checks the Durham report in real-time, “Now that finding by Mr. Durham is contradicted by DOJ’s own I.G. Mr. Horowitz in 2019 who found that investigation was opened, was predicated, it was necessary and then there was no bias.” pic.twitter.com/KDjDNrudWp
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) May 15, 2023
In fact, attorney and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa observed, “I’ll be interested to see how Durham argues that there was no predication in the Russia probe when the DOJ’s OIG [Office of the Inspector General] found the opposite AND a Republican-led Senate Intel Committee found that Trump’s campaign manager was, in fact, in frequent contact with a Russian intel officer,” she wrote. “As many have noted, even before Durham’s report was released Monday, that FBI investigation Durham claimed had no basis of being opened, resulted in dozens of criminal prosecutions.
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Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti also takes Durham to task. He writes, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller “rightfully resisted using the term ‘collusion,’ which has no legal meaning in this context, instead focusing on conspiracy law. Durham’s report comes out and says there is “no actual evidence of collusion,” a media soundbite, not a legal conclusion. What a contrast,” he notes.
“The Trump-Russia investigation produced 37 indictments and several other outside criminal referrals. People were convicted at trial. People pleaded guilty. Hostile foreign government actors faced legal and diplomatic sanctions,” notes Media Matter’s Craig Harrington. “All of this was real!”
Indeed, in December of 2019, Vox reported, “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team indicted or got guilty pleas from 34 people and three companies during their lengthy investigation.”
“That group is composed of six former Trump advisers, 26 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer. Seven of these people (including five of the six former Trump advisers) have pleaded guilty.”
That’s quite an accomplishment for an investigation John Durham claims should never have even been opened.
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Saying, “Point me to the confirmation bias here?” former FBI Counterintelligence Deputy Assistant Director Pete Strzok, who led the Bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, points out:
Paul Manafort – guilty
Rick Gates – guilty
Mike Flynn – guilty
George Papadopouolos – guilty
Roger Stone – guilty
Michael Cohen – guilty
Konstantin Kilimnik – wanted, $250k reward
Michael Sussman – not guilty
Igor Danchenko – not guilty
(above are direct quotes from Strzok)
Sussman and Danchenko were Durham’s, and they were found not guilty. The rest were the FBI’s.
Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign investigative correspondent Greg Miller of The Washington Post: “Durham’s report faults FBI for rushing to investigate candidate who urged Russia to hack opponent, was backed by Russian interference op, welcomed Russian offer of ‘dirt’, secretly pursued Moscow real estate deal, shared classified into w/Russian diplos…”
Others also slammed Durham.
“Durham’s mandate was to ‘investigate whether any… person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence, or law-enforcement activities directed at the 2016 presidential campaigns.’ Failing, he wrote a 300-page take,” says Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz, adding: “Basically he took Hannity monologues and converted them into two failed prosecutions, a guilty plea for someone who got probation, and a lengthy report that provides fodder for more Hannity segments. Circle of garbage.”
Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler, who specializes in national security and civil rights, says, “Durham took well over twice as long as Mueller and found, literally, bupkis.”
The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols, a retired U.S. Naval War College professor and Russia expert, called Durham’s four-year probe a “wild goose chase.”
‘One of the Worst Hours I’ve Ever Seen’: Critics Explode at CNN for ‘Spectacle of Lies’ Trump ‘Spewed’ for His ‘MAGA Zombies’
From the moment CNN announced it would host a “presidential town hall” that would star ex-president Donald Trump, many Americans voiced their outrage, expecting it to be a disaster.
Little did they know just how huge a disaster it would be – for both CNN and Donald Trump.
Throughout Wednesday night, Trump on stage, basking in audience applause, told lie after lie after lie to what some say was an ill-equipped anchor, Kaitlan Collins, who had no back up other than her earpiece. No video clips, no audio clips, just her microphone. Not only did she have to try, unsuccessfully, to keep the ex-president on track and fact-check him in real time, she was forced to contend with an audience so devoted to Trump they even laughed and applauded when he verbally attacked E. Jean Carroll, the journalist who won her sexual assault and defamation civil court case just one day earlier.
CNN, announcing the event on May 1, claimed the audience would be comprised of “New Hampshire Republicans and undeclared voters,” but on its own website Thursday morning CNN fully admitted it actually was a “mostly Trump-loyal audience.”
“Where are the never Trump Republicans? Where are the skeptical independents? This is not even a balanced audience of Republicans. It is gathering of MAGA zombies,” observed foreign policy, national security and political affairs analyst and commentator David Rothkopf.
In other words, this was not an event designed to help undecided voters make up their minds, 18 months before Election Day. This was an event designed to help CNN’s ratings and designed to promote Donald Trump to his already-decided fans.
It certainly seems to have backfired on CNN and Trump.
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“I’m no media expert,” tweeted conservative attorney George Conway, “but it seems to me that interviewing a narcissistic psychopath in front of a packed house of his flying monkeys is not the best format for television journalism.”
As expected, critics – which include casual observers, political experts, journalists including media reporters, university professors, and even CNN insiders who spoke with news outlets in real time and after the event – all excoriated CNN, including its chairman and CEO, Chris Licht.
Halfway through the 70-minute event, at 8:37 PM ET, The Daily Beast’s senior media reporter Justin Baragona tweeted, “Immediate reaction from a CNN on-air personality to me just now on this Trump town hall: ‘It is so bad. I was cautiously optimistic despite the criticism. It is awful. It’s a Trump infomercial. We’re going to get crushed.'”
Nearly one hour later, Baragona added, “Another CNN staffer reacts following the end of the Trump town hall: ‘One of the worst hours I’ve ever seen on our air.'”
Wednesday night Rolling Stone also reported what CNN employees were saying: “Network insiders who spoke to Rolling Stone were distraught that the former president had free rein to ‘spew lies’ during the ill-advised town hall.”
“One CNN insider who spoke to Rolling Stone called the evening ‘appalling,’ lamenting that the network gave Trump “a huge platform to spew his lies.”
Rolling Stone added, “the town hall was ‘a fucking disgrace,’ in the words of another network insider. ‘1000 percent a mistake [to host Trump]. No one [at CNN] is happy.'”
Overnight, CNN’s own Oliver Darcy in his “Reliable Sources” CNN newsletter slammed his bosses: “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.” And he admits, “CNN and new network boss Chris Licht are facing a fury of criticism — both internally and externally over the event.”
“Trump frequently ignored or spoke over Collins throughout the evening as he unleashed a firehose of disinformation upon the country, which a sizable swath of the GOP continues to believe,” Darcy wrote. “A professional lie machine, Trump fired off falsehoods at a rapid clip while using his bluster to overwhelm Collins, stealing command of the stage at some points of the town hall.”
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Trump lied about the outcome of the 2020 election, lied about fraud, lied about comments he’s made, lied about classified documents, and, as Darcy noted, “mocked E. Jean Carroll’s allegations of sexual assault, which a jury found him liable for on Tuesday.”
Actor and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted, “Only in America can you be found liable for sexually abusing a woman by a jury of your peers and then be applauded on CNN the very next day—as the GOP Presidential candidate front-runner.”
“And CNN aired it all,” Darcy added, effectively lambasting his bosses. “On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump’s unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage. And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement to his shameful antics.”
That does not bode well for Kaitlan Collins, the 31-year old “CNN This Morning” co-host who recently ended her assignment as CNN’s chief White House correspondent. Barely hours before the CNN/Trump town hall, Puck and later Variety reported Collins was expected to be awarded CNN’s coveted 9 PM slot to anchor.
Collins tried to push back against Trump, but it was no contest. While she had some rehearsed responses to his expected lies, apparently no one at CNN told Collins she had the authority to shut the show down if necessary – which she should have but likely did not. Instead, she tried to use facts to control Trump.
Facts are of little consequence to the twice-impeached ex-president who is under numerous federal and state investigations. Unsurprisingly, at one point he unleashed his usual misogynistic attack, calling Collins a “nasty person.”
“Nasty Person” quickly trended on Twitter.
How bad was Collins?
How did she handle Donald Trump lying about abortion claiming Democrats want to abort fetuses at nine months, and kill babies after they are born? (A repeatedly false claim Trump has made that CNN previously fact-checked in 2019.)
Rather than push back, Collins tried to change the topic.
Kaitlan Collins lets Trump slide when he lies about Democrats supporting the murder of born babies. Trump then refuses to answer a question about if he would sign a federal abortion ban, but indicates he’s open to it. pic.twitter.com/0e8B6VR4Z8
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2023
Early in the evening Collins did try to correct Trump’s lies, as she did when he falsely claimed that the 2020 election was “rigged.”
But he ignored her questions and just kept going.
Within minutes, Trump spews election denialism. Kaitlan Collins offers pushback. Trump completely ignores her and barrels right back into election denialism. Congrats to CNN on giving this guy a platform to promote his lies on national TV.pic.twitter.com/yEqcNtZzWw
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) May 11, 2023
Who is Kaitlan Collins?
Several critics Wednesday evening reminded Twitter users that Collins got her start in journalism at Tucker Carlson’s far-right website, The Daily Caller. She’s “famous” for writing a 2015 article rating the “hotness” of several Syrian refugees.
the great american journalism kaitlan collins did at the daily caller before cnn had her hosting the town hall tonight https://t.co/FLd0xWMBA1 pic.twitter.com/hkhCObFUk7
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) May 11, 2023
Media Matters’ Craig Harrington, just 15 minutes into the town hall, observed, “Kaitlan Collins just let Trump call insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt a ‘patriot’ and call the police officer who defended the Capitol a ‘thug.’ This is what happens when you play with Trump.”
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Meanwhile, others at CNN were also outraged.
Rolling Stone also quoted former Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone, a CNN contributor who wrote in an op-ed for the magazine: “Putting him onstage, having him answer questions like a normal candidate who didn’t get people killed in the process of trying to end the democracy he’s attempting to once again run, normalizes what Trump did.”
“It sends a message that attempting a coup is just part of the process; that accepting election results is a choice; and that there are no consequences, in the media or in politics or anywhere else, for rejecting them,” Fanone added.
Outside of CNN, others were equally critical and outraged.
Republican turned independent turned Democrat Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for the 2004 Bush–Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, also blasted CNN.
“Ok, I watched as much as I could,” he tweeted at 8:58 PM Wednesday night, about 12 minutes before the event ended. “CNN was completely unprepared to hold Trump accountable. CNN has done a complete disservice to our democracy. I withheld judgment on this until I saw it. CNN you failed journalism and our country.”
But NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, one of the best critics of the media, responded to Dowd, writing: “The failure was earlier. In the delusion that by bringing him into your space, you could force him into your world: where there are such things as facts, where verification matters, and the public record speaks. It was a failure to accept how far gone this is, though you knew.”
Just how bad and how dangerous for America and our democracy was CNN’s Trump town hall?
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, praising CNN’s Oliver Darcy’s take on the horrific evening wrote, “It is excellent and brave on
[Darvcy’s] part but debating how successfully Trump was fact checked misses the whole point about his disinformation. He isn’t arguing over what reality is. He’s displaying an assertion of the power to dictate an alternative version of it.”
As Darcy wrote, “And CNN aired it all.”
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