Opinion: Trump rallies are like revival meetings . . .

I’m not the first to say this, Trump rallies are like revival meetings, with Trump as the ‘preacher’ . . . spreading *his* particular *gospel* message.

But since Trump is merely a pretty good con artist, his *gospel* is full of lies and half-truths and whatever he thinks will ‘work’ “on the crowd.”  Eventually he will be found out, exposed, but he’s not thinking about that now . . . not when he has so much power and receives so much praise (primarily from varieties of sycophants).

Trump is in love with himself and thinks that you/we should consider ourselves blessed just to be in the same room with him . . . just to be in his presence.  He expects adulation.  Nay, he demands it.  He doesn’t ‘get it’ why 2/3 of Americans passionately loathe him.

People that go to revival meetings are usually not showing up to challenge what they’re about to hear.  They show up because they support the ‘gospel’ being preached.  It’s what they want to hear.  It’s what they came for . . . the whole dog and pony show.  You get out your special shirt or jacket and/or MAGA hat and show up.  And since Mr. Trump is/was a celebrity, and celebrities are worshipped in our world, a certain percentage of people in this country will ‘worship’ him and hang on his every word.  How anyone can get so worked up about ‘any‘ politician is beyond me.  We need to appreciate people without treating them like ‘gods.’  Celebrity gushing is disgusting.  Could he have been elected if he hadn’t been a celebrity?  No way!

Trump himself boasted that he could shoot someone on 5th Ave. in NYC and get away with it.  Why would he think this?  Well, in NYC, for three decades or more, he *has* gotten away with whatever he’s done.  So far, he’s gotten away with what’s he done as POTUS.  He’s gotten away with his NYC antics except for the fact his reputation in NYC was/is in the gutter and he had to go outside the U.S. to find a bank that would lend him money.  Does he owe Russia lots and lots of money?  Some reporting indicates this.

And IF he did cooperate with Russia to win the 2016 election, will he get away with that tooWhy doesn’t the *entire* country, every citizen, want to know the answer to that question?  What is Trump so afraid of?  There has been a ‘cover up.’  It’s ongoing, and that is clear.  The question is *what* does he *not* want exposed and revealed to the American public?  What is he trying to obfuscate?  What’s he trying to protect?  There’s something — it’s self-evident and also the media has been exposing this and that for a year or more.

I’ve been apolitical prior to Trump.  I’ve only been following political news since Nov. 2016 and it’s been a SHOCK.  What I see (mainly) the GOP in Congress doing is thoroughly disgusting and revolting — shocking and alarming!  They appear to have a blatant disinterest and disregard for the TRUTH . . . the ABSENCE of a REAL DESIRE to LEARN what REALLY HAPPENED. 

For me *anyone* doing the things Trump does and has done would get me riled up.  Any grossly unfit person in the POTUS chair would get my back up in the air.  Anyone cooperating with the Russians to win an election in America should be hanged by the neck until dead on TV, for all the world to see.  IF he did work with the Russians to win the 2016 election, that’s precisely what should happen.  Of course it won’t happen, even if he’s found 100% guilty.

IF he is NOT guilty, Americans need to know that, as a fact, independently verified.  IT SEEMS LIKE HE WOULD WANT THAT TOO — TO BE CLEARED.  But he doesn’t behave like an innocent person who has nothing to fear.  He appears to have lots of fears re: this investigation.  If there’s no there there, what is he afraid of?

If we can’t trust a man like Robert Mueller, we can’t trust anyone.  He is a decorated war hero!  In the military he literally took a bullet for his country.  The lap-dogs in the GOP need to leave his investigation alone.  There’s no way Mueller will *fabricate* evidence (that doesn’t exist).  For, unlike Trump, Mueller is an honorable man.  As soon as he learned of any improprieties by someone on his team, they were gone.

Much of the Steele dossier has been provenWhy won’t Congress release the FUSION GPS testimony transcripts?  There was more than ten hours of testimony!  The GOP in Congress clearly want to discredit and/or block the TRUTH.

The GOP in Congress clearly do NOT WANT to know what happened, so long as they can get Trump to sign the stuff they want him to sign.  This is repugnant and known as personal self-interest, and putting self interest above party interests, and party interests above what’s best for the country . . . which puts country last, when it ought to be first.  The GOP seems to have a blatant disregard for the rule of law and the rule of law must prevail.





What’s *wrong* with/in America

An opinion piece.

Perhaps a list will illustrate:

  1. People don’t vote; they must be compelled to.  (See #11)
  2. Baby Boomers must be much less passive and do far more to ‘right the ship’ and keep it away from destruction.
  3. Civic education must be mandated (ages 5 – 95) with periodic testing and demonstration of competency.  People are politically disengaged and uneducated on:
    • relevant issues
    • the voting history of incumbents
    • American history and world history
    • many other relevant things
  4. The Electoral College was created by slaveholders and is an outdated system which should be abandoned.  A candidate for POTUS, subject to Senate confirmation, may win ONLY by obtaining the most votes from American voters.
  5. The Founding Fathers were visionaries but obviously did not conceive of a candidate like Trump.  The U.S. Constitution is weak and extremely absurd in places, for example the qualifications for POTUS.  Amendments are needed, post haste.
  6. Politicians in Congress are all WEALTHY, most of them millionaires and thus out of touch with, and disinterested in, the ‘common man’ (in the lower and middle classes).  They must *prove* (by their deeds, actions, and personal voting record) that they are responding to the needs and desires of their constituents; or, be subject to a special election in their state whereby they will be removed from office and replaced.
  7. Most politicians in Congress put self interest above Party interest and Party interest above the interests of their constituents and the nation.  (See #6)
  8. The government has a lack of transparency.  For example, the Senate spent more than $1.45 million settling workplace harassment and discrimination cases over the past 20 years.  We weren’t told (by Obama, prior to the election) that the Russians tried to hack the 2016 POTUS election and may have had help from the Trump campaign, etc.  If the public becomes aware of significant information suppression, the Congress and POTUS will be held accountable and special elections will occur, as needed.
  9. Our present system permitted a completely unqualified, mentally ill, narcissistic bully, reality show celebrity to become POTUS.  This is prima facie evidence the system needs a tweak and a tune-up.  The requirements for POTUS must be among the highest in the land.  Any POTUS candidate must *demonstrate* an ability to meet the requirements and obligations of the Office of POTUS prior to being permitted to run in a primary.
  10. Voting is cumbersome . . . by design; designed to suppress the will/voice of the People (the average person).  A voting system should be developed online, with necessary safeguards and security, and/or voters in the POTUS and Congressional elections should be able to mail in their vote via the USPS over an extended (perhaps two-week) time period .
  11. Voting in the POTUS and Congressional elections should be *mandatory* with stiff fines and penalties for failing to vote.  The Greeks had a term for those who did not actively participate in their democracy: idiotai.
  12. Gerrymandering and other forms of election rigging and manipulation must be banned.
  13. Negative campaign ads should be banned.  Candidates may only articulate what they plan to do . . . what they hope to accomplish and how.
  14. Our country is controlled by oligarchs.  Every candidate for a federal position should have the *same* dollar amount to spend, *same* amount of publicity.
  15. Powerful families, special interest groups and lobbyists should be prohibited from making any contribution large enough to make a candidate beholden to them.  All contributions must be made a matter of public record, listed/revealed online.  All cronyism and quid pro quo political payback must be curtailed, by law, at every level of government.
  16. The military-industrial complex must be closely monitored and checked, as needed.  The DoD budget must be leaner, covering mainly essentials.  There must be greater accountability of government spending coupled with public approval prior to large expenditures.
  17. Watchdog groups (staffed by the best and the brightest with impressive resumes) should abound (to hold/keep elected officials accountable).  Legitimate media outlets must be highly respected and cooperated with to the utmost.
  18. News programs should be required to report only factual news . . . in contrast with *opinion* programs, and *speculation* programs, which should clearly and frequently remind viewers/listeners that what they are consuming are biased opinions, not merely (occasional) factual news.
  19. The U.S. should lead strong, ongoing efforts toward eliminating nuclear weapons everywhere.
  20. Something similar to the Geneva Convention must be developed and implemented with respect to cyberwarfare.
  21. The POTUS must be subject to the same rules and regulations that any officer in the U.S. military is subject to, including being subject to conduct unbecoming chargesAny *appearance* of conduct unbecoming must be dealt with harshly and immediately by the Congress (as required by law).  The POTUS should be required to conduct himself/herself as a gentleman/gentle lady at all times.  All the ‘boundary violations’ Trump has committed clearly need to be spelled out, and put into the rule of law . . . for without the rule of law, with some people, improprieties will abound.  With Trump it’s as if a school board has appointed the most incorrigible bully the President of the Board.  Naturally this bully will try to destroy as many guidelines, guardrails and traditions as possible.
  22. Any federal government official, including the POTUS, who knowingly lies to the American public must be immediately dismissed from office.
  23. Lifetime appointments to federal courts and/or other federal positions are reduced to six-year terms subject to expert, nonpartisan oversight.
  24. The Senate must *confirm* an elected POTUS, to ensure he/she is truly qualified, enjoys a longstanding good reputation in  his community, is known to be a person of unimpeachable honor, honesty, integrity, etc. with no dubious history and/or checkered past (including illegal and/or inappropriate contacts, associations, and/or help from foreign governments) and/or multiple personal lawsuits and/or personal and/or business-related bankruptcies.
  25. Any candidate for office of POTUS must reveal his/her three (3) most recent tax returns to the American people prior to ‘running’ for office.
  26. No POTUS may be allowed to appoint close, personal friends and/or relatives to any position in the federal government, ever.

I realize much of the above has about as much chance to happen as requiring, by law, that politicians everywhere MUST tell the TRUTH or be removed from office.




USA Today says Flynn’s ‘guilty’ plea is a BIG DEAL

WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty Friday to a charge that while serving in the White House, he lied to FBI agents about prior contacts with Russia’s ambassador.

Here’s why that is such a big deal:

Flynn’s plea represents the first time that the Russia investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, has penetrated Trump’s inner circle.

Flynn was a close adviser to President Trump, both in the White House and as part of the Trump campaign. The president cannot dismiss Flynn as a low-level aide or as someone he hardly knew.

Flynn served as the president’s national security adviser until he resigned in February after admitting that he misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials about his communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Before becoming national security adviser, Flynn was a top adviser and high-profile surrogate for Trump during his presidential campaign. He famously led attendees at the Republican National Convention in a chant of “lock her up” — referring to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

 The only other person to plead guilty so far in the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign that Trump dismissed in a tweet as a “low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”  Papadopoulos, like Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Unlike Flynn, Papadopoulos never worked in the White House.

In addition to Papadopoulos, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign associate Rick Gates have been charged in connection with Mueller’s investigation, but not for actions taken while working for Trump. The indictment against them alleges that the pair worked for the government of Ukraine from at least 2006 to 2015 but did not register as lobbyists for a foreign government as required by law. It also alleges that they laundered money that they received for their work as lobbyists. The two men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

 Flynn’s guilty plea is an ominous sign for the White House, because it means that he is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation and could be giving prosecutors evidence against others.

Prosecutors said in court Friday that Flynn had agreed to cooperate with authorities.  However, White House lawyer Ty Cobb said Friday that nothing about Flynn’s guilty plea “implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”

Flynn says he coordinated with the president’s transition team

At least some of Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials had been coordinated with a “senior official of the presidential transition,” according to court documents Flynn signed.

Trump, like all incoming presidents, created a transition team to advise him between the Nov. 8 election and his Jan. 20 inauguration.

 Prosecutors charged that Flynn lied to agents about a Dec. 29 conversation with Kislyak about how Russia might respond to sanctions the U.S. government had levied over its election meddling. Shortly after that call with Kislyak, Flynn placed a call to a “senior official of the presidential transition” at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, Brandon Van Grack, said. Then Flynn called the Russian ambassador again, prosecutors said.


Flynn is being prosecuted for lying about something that happened after Trump was elected president rather than something that happened during the campaign. 

In the court filing made public Friday, prosecutors allege that Flynn “did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to FBI agents during a Jan. 24 interview about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump took office.

Flynn has admitted he falsely told FBI agents that he did not ask Kislyak to delay a vote on a pending United Nations Security Council resolution when the two men spoke in December — when Trump was the president-elect. Flynn’s interview with the FBI agents came just four days after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

According to court documents, Flynn and Kislyak discussed an upcoming U.N. Security Council vote on whether to condemn Israel for building settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Flynn asked Kislyak to delay the vote even though the Obama administration, which was still running the government at the time, was planning to allow it to take place.

Trump allegedly asked former FBI Director James Comey to back off an investigation of Flynn.

Flynn, whom Trump continued to praise even after firing him, was so important to the president that Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of Flynn’s ties to Russia, according to Comey’s public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June.

Comey said he was fired after he continued to pursue the investigation against Flynn as part of an overall probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Trump has denied Comey’s accusation, but Mueller is reportedly looking into it as part of an investigation into whether Trump may have committed obstruction of justice.

Contributing: Brad Heath, Gregory Korte


12/01/17 –> Flynn pleads GUILTY

(Reuters) – Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first U.S. national security adviser, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.

Here are five facts about Flynn:

Flynn was national security adviser for just 24 days, from Jan. 20, when Trump took office, to Feb. 13. Flynn was fired following disclosures that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s U.S. ambassador, and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

On Feb. 14, Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey in an Oval Office meeting to end the agency’s investigation into ties between Flynn and Russia, according to news media reports. Trump, who fired Comey on May 9, later denied making such a request.

Trump had named the former Army lieutenant general to the national security post despite red flags about Flynn’s Russian contacts and advocacy for warmer U.S. relations with Moscow, which has been under U.S. economic sanctions for years. Outgoing President Barack Obama had warned Trump not to hire Flynn, who had been fired by the Democratic president in 2014.

Flynn was an early and vociferous Trump supporter during the New York businessman’s 2016 White House run. He made vitriolic appearances on the campaign trail, notably leading the Republican National Convention in chants of “Lock her up,” referring to Trump’s Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In addition to Flynn’s contacts with Russia, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible ties between the Trump election campaign and Moscow has expanded its probe to include Flynn’s paid work as a lobbyist for a Turkish businessman in 2016, people with knowledge of the inquiry have told Reuters.

Compiled by Jonathan Oatis; editing by Grant McCool

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The U.S. Constitution is woefully inadequate re: POTUS requirements

There’s something extremely wrong when the POTUS is exempt from the ordinary (basic, fundamental) rules and regulations anyone else in the country *must* follow and obey.  Anyone else in the country would be fired if they grossly misbehaved and/or daily demonstrated their ineptness, incompetence, and inability to do the job they were hired/appointed to do.  The POTUS is shielded (to the detriment of all U.S. citizens) from the ordinary, normal, logical, natural consequences anyone else in the country would suffer (for incompetence and/or egregious behavior).

Any person, in almost any job/position, would’ve been dismissed if they did a fraction of what this POTUS has done since being installed by the bogus Electoral College.  Anyone else in the country would have had to demonstrate competency prior to getting the position.  

The U.S. Constitution is woefully inadequate.  As smart and savvy as the Founders were, they apparently could not envision a Trump . . . they would not believe the country would EVER permit an unscrupulous scoundrel to occupy the POTUS chair.

The Electoral College, created and designed to benefit slaveholders, failed to do its job when it put Trump into office.  They were supposed to protect the nation from all charlatans, madmen, and would-be dictators and make sure they could *not* be elected.  

The fact Trump is unfit, unqualified, and a menace to world peace, stability, and a safe, prosperous, United States is self-evident.  The Constitutional requirements for POTUS pertain to age and citizenship and nothing else!  Therefore, essential safeguards to protect the country from a man like Trump are deplorably absent.  If ever there was a time for Amendments to the Constitution to fix this most serious problem, NOW is the time.

Just as anyone (tacitly) expects any parent to keep their young children from playing in the middle of a busy street . . . the Founders apparently didn’t think it was necessary to state the obvious — only the fit and qualified should be elected.  If the Founders were still around they’d scream for Amendments (to the Constitution) to address their lack of vision and foresight.  Since they are *not* here . . . WE, the PEOPLE, must SCREAM.  

If you are ‘friends’ with Trump . . .

We can’t be friends if you are friends with Trump

In my opinion, Trump has found the loopholes, the weak spots.  Like a wild critter, he’s found a way to get in!  And like a wild critter he’s destroying things . . . vitally important things!  He’s exploited existing weaknesses in our political systems and in a way has hijacked them.  

I believe he cares ONLY about himself and treating the United States of America like his personal toilet paper doesn’t bother him in the least.  He never apologizes — I think he’s incapable of remorse.  This, ALONE, makes him UNFIT to *be* the POTUS . . . or be placed in ANY POSITION of RESPONSIBILITY . . . but ESPECIALLY the Office of POTUS.  

Instead of making any wise, creative, intelligent, diplomatic, energetic attempt to unite the country and improve the world he tries his best, daily, to be the antithesis of wise, creative, intelligent, diplomatic.  

What’s important to DT, from his POV, is winning.  That is what his father pounded into his head (while simultaneously withholding the love and affection that young Donald needed to grow and develop properly into a mature, compassionate, empathic, mentally fit, complete human being).  He said he is all about winning — has nothing but contempt for losers.  Winning, for him, means Donald Trump, personally, wins/benefits.  It’s all about him.  I hold these truths to be self-evident.

If confronted he’d say something like, We’ll I may be a nightmare, a madman, a chronic liar, smug, destructive, boorish, inept, disgusting, bellicose, dishonest, divisive, odious, crude, rude, contradictory, illogical, specious, ridiculous, hypocritical, crass, low, mean, mean-spirited, petty, insecure, unrefined, obnoxious, toxic, sick, despicable, offensive, uppity, inappropriate, delusional, clueless, pompous, asinine, vulgar, undignified, revolting, ignorant, stupid, unprecedented, wicked, devilish, self-serving, racist, full of toxic hubris and destructive narcissism . . . but what I do (that you know about so far) ain’t illegal.  And, by the way, WHO is the POTUS?  Who suffers zero consequences for his misbehavior and flagrant ineptitude  (so far, at least)?”  

He’s correct.  He is basically showing the world, by his behavior, what he would vocalize if he’d be completely honest: Gotcha!  Caught you with your pants down didn’t I!” He would certainly boast of it.  Many of the things he has broken (norms, decorum, standards, conventions and the like) should have been more explicit, AND put into law, to SAVE US from the likes of Trump — a scoundrel.  (His past, and his past behavior, speak volumes re: how he is and who he is.  The fact he’s a scoundrel is beyond dispute.)  

It’s been a while, but I am familiar with the saying, He’s just one of those people you have to spell everything out to or he’ll try to work the system and/or otherwise try to take advantage of you.  He 100% just out for his own enrichment, his own pleasure — more wealth, more power, more prestige, more pleasure, more worship from the public, etc.  Ya know, give him an inch and he’ll try and take a mile?  Ya know, completely unscrupulous.”  I believe such is our Mr. Trump.  He is insatiable.  What he’s trying to satisfy can never be satisfied.  He’s a human black hole.  In the future I would not be surprised to read this headline: Doctors say former President Donald J. Trump is an incorrigible sociopath.  He is dangerous!  Wait a minute . . . that’s what they’re saying NOW.  

Therefore, IF you are for Trump, then, in my opinion you are in favor of the above, and I’m against it.  I’ll say it again . . . what you are for, I’m against.  You would enable him and be an accomplice to his evil, wicked ways.  I desire to see him removed from office asap and punished severely if convicted of heinous crimes.  

What fellowship can rain have with trying to dry clothes outside (on a line)?  None.  They are at cross purposes.  They do not go together.  You are trying to *fill*, I am trying to *drain*.  We’re not going to be able to get along.  

To state it more simply, if you like Trump, our beliefs and values conflict so much that maintaining any kind of harmonious friendship would be an impossibility.  Unless . . . unless we tried to pretend that we are not, in part, political creatures.  But I don’t think we could maintain such a pretense.  

Apart from that this is about much more than politics; it’s about what it means to be a decent, honorable, caring human being and how Trump is not even attempting to do that.  The tragic thing is that I don’t believe he is capable . . . of doing that.  And that is something basic.  It’s How To Be A Decent Human Being 101.  In  other words, if he can’t crawl, he for sure won’t be able to run.  

Steele dossier: Report of 9/6/17



Blogger’s Note: This blogger has emphasized certain passages with highlights, etc.

[Editor’s Note: In this special Just Security article, highly respected former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, John Sipher examines the Steele dossier using methods that an intelligence officer would to try to validate such information. Sipher concludes that the dossier’s information on campaign collusion is generally credible when measured against standard Russian intelligence practices, events subsequent to Steele’s reporting, and information that has become available in the nine months since Steele’s final report. The dossier, in Sipher’s view, is not without fault, including factual inaccuracies. Those errors, however, do not detract from an overarching framework that has proven to be ever more reliable as new revelations about potential Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin and its affiliates has come to light in the nine months since Steele submitted his final report.]

Recent revelations of Trump campaign connections to Russia have revived interest in the so-called Steele Dossier.  The dossier is composed of a batch of short reports produced between June and December 2016 by Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients.  The collection of Orbis reports caused an uproar when it was published online by the US website BuzzFeed, just ten days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.  Taken together, the series of reports painted a picture of active collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials based on years of Russian intelligence work against Trump and some of his associates.  This seemed to complement general statements from US intelligence officials about Russia’s active efforts to undermine the US election.  The greatest attention was paid to the first report, which conveyed salacious claims about Trump consorting with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013.  Trump himself publicly refuted the story, while Trump associates denied reported details about their engagement with Russian officials.  A lot of ink and pixels were also spent on the question whether it was appropriate for the media to publish the dossier. The furor quickly passed, the next news cycle came, and the American media has been largely reluctant to revisit the report over the months since.

Almost immediately after the dossier was leaked, media outlets and commentators pointed out that the material was unproven. News editors affixed the terms “unverified” and “unsubstantiated” to all discussion of the issue in the responsible media.  Political supporters of President Trump simply tagged it as “fake news.”  Riding that wave, even legendary Washington Post reported Bob Woodward characterized the report as “garbage.”

For professional investigators, however, the dossier is by no means a useless document.  Although the reports were produced episodically, almost erratically, over a five-month period, they present a coherent narrative of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.  As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics.  Until we have another more credible narrative, we should do all we can to examine closely and confirm or dispute the reports.

Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken the Orbis reports seriously since they were first published.  This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods, and the nature of raw intelligence reporting.  Immediately following the BuzzFeed leak, one of my closest former CIA colleagues told me that he recognized the reports as the obvious product of a former Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officer, since the format, structure, and language mirrored what he had seen over a career of reading SIS reports provided to CIA in liaison channels.  He and others withheld judgment about the veracity of the reports, but for the reasons I outline further below they did not reject them out of hand.  In fact, they were more inclined for professional reasons to put them in the “trust but verify” category.

So how should we unpack the so-called Steele dossier from an intelligence perspective?

I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents.  At heart, this is what Orbis did.  They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions.  The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand.

When disseminating a raw intelligence report, an intelligence agency is not vouching for the accuracy of the information provided by the report’s sources and/or sub-sources.  Rather it is claiming that it has made strenuous efforts to validate that it is reporting accurately what the sources/sub-sources claim has happenedThe onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre.  In the case of the dossier, Orbis was not saying that everything that it reported was accurate, but that it had made a good-faith effort to pass along faithfully what identified insiders said was accurate.  This is routine in the intelligence business. And this form of reporting is often a critical product in putting together more final intelligence assessments.

In this sense, the so-called Steele dossier is not a dossier at all.  A dossier suggests a summary or case history.  Mr. Steele’s product is not a report delivered with a bow at the end of an investigation.  Instead, it is a series of contemporaneous raw reports that do not have the benefit of hindsight.  Among the unnamed sources are “a senior Russian foreign ministry official,” “a former top-level intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” and “a close associate of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.”  Thus, the reports are not an attempt to connect the dots, but instead an effort to uncover new and potentially relevant dots in the first place.

What’s most relevant in the Orbis reports?

Let me illustrate what the reports contain by unpacking the first and most notorious of the seventeen Orbis reports, and then move to some of the other ones.  The first 2 ½ page report was dated June 20, 2016 and entitled “Company Intelligence Report 2016/080.”  It starts with several summary bullets, and continues with additional detail attributed to sources A-E and G (there may be a source F but part of the report is blacked out).  The report makes a number of explosive claims, all of which at the time of the report were unknown to the public.

Among other assertions, three sources in the Orbis report describe a multi-year effort by Russian authorities to cultivate, support and assist Donald Trump.  According to the account, the Kremlin provided Trump with intelligence on his political primary opponents and access to potential business deals in Russia.  Perhaps more importantly, Russia had offered to provide potentially compromising material on Hillary Clinton, consisting of bugged conversations during her travels to Russia, and evidence of her viewpoints that contradicted her public positions on various issues.

The report also alleged that the internal Russian intelligence service (FSB) had developed potentially compromising material on Trump, to include details of “perverted sexual acts” which were arranged and monitored by the FSB.  Specifically, the compromising material, according to this entry in the report, included an occasion when Trump hired the presidential suite at a top Moscow hotel which had hosted President and Mrs. Obama, and employed prostitutes to defile the bed where the President had slept.  Four separate sources also described “unorthodox” and embarrassing behavior by Trump over the years that the FSB believed could be used to blackmail the then presidential candidate.

The report stated that Russian President Putin was supportive of the effort to cultivate Trump, and the primary aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. and the West.  The dossier of FSB-collected information on Hillary Clinton was managed by Kremlin chief spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Subsequent reports provide additional detail about the conspiracy, which includes information about cyber-attacks against the U.S.  They allege that Paul Manafort managed the conspiracy to exploit political information on Hillary Clinton in return for information on Russian oligarchs outside Russia, and an agreement to “sideline” Ukraine as a campaign issue.  Trump campaign operative Carter Page is also said to have played a role in shuttling information to Moscow, while Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reportedly took over efforts after Manafort left the campaign, personally providing cash payments for Russian hackers.  In one account, Putin and his aides expressed concern over kick-backs of cash to Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which they feared might be discoverable by U.S. authorities.  The Kremlin also feared that the U.S. might stumble onto the conspiracy through the actions of a Russian diplomat in Washington, Mikhail Kalugin, and therefore had him withdrawn, according to the reports.

In late fall 2016, the Orbis team reported that a Russian-supported company had been “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.”  Hackers recruited by the FSB under duress were involved in the operations.  According to the report, Michael Cohen insisted that payments be made quickly and discreetly, and that cyber operators should go to ground and cover their tracks.

Assessing the Orbis reports

What should be made of these leaked reports with unnamed sources on issues that were deliberately concealed by the participants?  Honest media outlets have reported on subsequent events that appear to be connected to the reports, but do not go too far with their analysis, concluding still that the dossier is unverified.  Almost no outlets have reported on the salacious sexual allegations, leaving the public with very little sense as to whether the dossier is true, false, important or unimportant in that respect.

While the reluctance of the media to speculate as to the value of the report is understandable, professional intelligence analysts and investigators do not have the luxury of simply dismissing the information.  They instead need to do all they can to put it into context, determine what appears credible, and openly acknowledge the gaps in understanding so that collectors can seek additional information that might help make sense of the charges.

Step One: Source Validation

In the intelligence world, we always begin with source validation, focusing on what intelligence professionals call “the chain of acquisition.”  In this case we would look for detailed information on (in this order) Orbis, Steele, his means of collection (e.g., who was working for him in collecting information), his sources, their sub-sources (witting or unwitting), and the actual people, organizations and issues being reported on.

Intelligence methodology presumes that perfect information is never available, and that the vetting process involves cross-checking both the source of the information as well as the information itself.  There is a saying among spy handlers, “vet the source first before attempting to vet the source’s information.”  Information from human sources (the spies themselves) is dependent on their distinct access to information, and every source has a particular lens.  Professional collectors and debriefing experts do not elicit information from a source outside of the source’s area of specific access.  They also understand that inaccuracies are inevitable, even if the source is not trying to mislead.  The intelligence process is built upon a feedback cycle that corroborates what it can, and then goes back to gather additional information to help build confidence in the assessment.  The process is dispassionate, unemotional, professional and never ending.

Faced with the raw reports in the Orbis document, how might an intelligence professional approach the jumble of information?

The first thing to examine is Christopher Steele, the author of the reports, and his organization Orbis International.  Are they credible?

Steele was the President of the Cambridge Union at university, and was a career British intelligence officer with service in Moscow, Paris and Afghanistan prior to work as the head of the Russia desk at British intelligence HQS.  While in London he worked as the personal handler of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko.  He was a respected professional who had success in some of the most difficult intelligence environments.  He retired from SIS in 2009 and started Orbis Business Intelligence along with a former colleague.  Prior to his work on the Russian dossier for Orbis, he was best known for his investigation of the world soccer association (FIFA), which provided direct support to the FBI’s successful corruption case.  Steele and Orbis were also known for assisting various European countries in understanding Russian efforts to meddle in their affairs.

Like any private firm, Orbis’ ability to remain in business relies on its track record of credibility.   Success for Steele and his colleagues depends on his integrity, reliability, and the firm’s reputation for serious work.  In this regard, Steele is putting his reputation and his company’s continued existence on the line with each report.  Yes, as with anyone operating in the murky world of intelligence, he could be duped.  Nonetheless, his reputation for handling sensitive Russian espionage operations over the years suggests that he is security conscious and aware of Russian counterintelligence and disinformation efforts.  His willingness to share his work with professional investigative agencies such as the FBI and the British Security Service also suggest that he is comfortable opening his work to scrutiny, and is seen as a serious partner by the best in the business.

The biggest problem with confirming the details of the Steele “dossier” is obvious: we do not know his sources, other than via the short descriptions in the reports.  In CIA’s clandestine service, we spent by far the bulk of our work finding, recruiting and validating sources.  Before we would ever consider disseminating an intelligence report, we would move heaven and earth to understand the access, reliability, trustworthiness, motivation and dependability of our source.  We believe it is critical to validate the source before we can validate the reliability of the source’s information.  How does the source know about what he/she is reporting?  How did the source get the information?  Who are his/her sub-sources?  What do we know about the sub-sources?  Why is the source sharing the information?  Is the source a serious person who has taken appropriate measures to protect their efforts?

One clue as to the credibility of the sources in these reports is that Steele shared them with the FBI.  The fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously.  At the very least, the FBI will be able to validate the credibility of the sources, and therefore better judge the information.  As one recently retired senior intelligence officer with deep experience in espionage investigations quipped, “I assign more credence to the Steele report knowing that the FBI paid him for his research.  From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI.  If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value.”

Step Two: Assessing the Substantive Content

As outsiders without the investigative tools available to the FBI, we can only look at the information and determine if it makes sense given subsequent events and the revelation of additional information.  Mr. Steele did not have the benefit of knowing Mr. Trump would win the election or how events might play out.  In this regard, does any of the information we have learned since June 2016 assign greater or less credibility to the information?  Were the people mentioned in the report real?  Were their affiliations correct?  Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?

To a large extent, yes.

The most obvious occurrence that could not have been known to Orbis in June 2016, but shines bright in retrospect is the fact that Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump, as the U.S. intelligence community itself later concluded.  Well before any public knowledge of these events, the Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents.

Mr. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate.

The U.S. government only published its conclusions in January 2017, with an assessment of some elements in October 2016.  It was also apparently news to investigators when the New York Times in July 2017 published Don (Trump) Jr’s emails arranging for the receipt of information held by the Russians about Hillary Clinton. How could Steele and Orbis know in June 2016 that the Russians were working actively to elect Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton? How could Steele and Orbis have known about the Russian overtures to the Trump Team involving derogatory information on Clinton?

We have also subsequently learned of Trump’s long-standing interest in, and experience with Russia and Russians.  A February 2017 New York Times article reported that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election.

The New York Times article was also corroborated by CNN and Reuters independent reports. And even Russian officials have acknowledged some of these and other repeated contacts. Although Trump has denied the connections, numerous credible reports suggest that both he and Manafort have long-standing relationships with Russians, and pro-Putin groups.  In August 2017, CNN reported on “intercepted communications that US intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort…to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects” including “conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

We learned that when Carter Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, he met with close Putin ally and Chairman of the Russian state oil company, Igor Sechin.  A later Steele report also claimed that he met with Parliamentary Secretary Igor Diveykin while in Moscow.  Renowned investigative journalist Michael Isikoff reported in September 2016 that U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Page met with both Sechin and Diveykin during his July trip to Russia. What’s more, the Justice Department obtained a wiretap in summer 2016 on Page after satisfying a court that there was sufficient evidence to show Page was operating as a Russian agent.

While the Orbis team had no way to know it, subsequent reports from U.S. officials confirmed that Washington-based diplomat Mikhail Kalugin was an undercover intelligence officer and was pulled out of the Embassy and sent home in summer 2016.

The Orbis documents refer repeatedly to Paul Manafort’s “off-the-books” payments from ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian party, and Russian concerns that it may be a vulnerability that could jeopardize the effort.  According to the Orbis report, the Russians were concerned about “further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine.” And, indeed, there have been further scandals since the Orbis reports were written. Those include Manafort being compelled in June 2017 to register retroactively as a foreign agent of a pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine, and Mueller and New York Attorney Generals’ reported investigation of Manafort for possible money laundering and tax evasion linked to Ukrainian ventures.

We do not have any reporting that implicates Michael Cohen in meetings with Russians as outlined in the dossier.  However, recent revelations indicate his long-standing relationships with key Russian and Ukrainian interlocutors, and highlight his role in a previously hidden effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow. During the campaign, those efforts included email exchanges with Trump associate Felix Sater explicitly referring to getting Putin’s circle involved and helping Trump get elected.

Further, the Trump Administration’s effort lift sanctions on Russia immediately following the inauguration seems to mirror Orbis reporting related to Mr. Cohen’s promises to Russia, as reported in the Orbis documents.  A June 2017 Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff described the Administration’s efforts to engage the State Department about lifting sanctions “almost as soon as they took office.”  Their efforts were halted by State Department officials and members of Congress.  Following the inauguration, Cohen was involved, again with Felix Sater, to engage in back-channel negotiations seeking a means to lift sanctions via a semi-developed Russian-Ukrainian plan (which also included the hand delivery of derogatory information on Ukrainian leaders) also fits with Orbis reporting related to Cohen.

The quid pro quo as alleged in the dossier was for the Trump team to “sideline” the Ukrainian issue in the campaign.  We learned subsequently the Trump platform committee changed only a single plank in the 60-page Republican platform prior to the Republican convention.  Of the hundreds of Republican positions and proposals, they altered only the single sentence that called for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military.  The Trump team changed the wording to the more benign, “appropriate assistance.”

Consider, in addition, the Orbis report saying that Russia was utilizing hackers to influence voters and referring to payments to “hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.” A January 2017 Stanford study found that “fabricated stories favoring Donald Trump were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election.”  Also, in November, researchers at Oxford University published a report based on analysis of 19.4 million Twitter posts from early November prior to the election.  The report found that an “automated army of pro-Trump chatbots overwhelmed Clinton bots five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election.”  In March 2017, former FBI agent Clint Watts told Congress about websites involved in the Russian disinformation campaign “some of which mysteriously operate from Eastern Europe and are curiously led by pro-Russian editors of unknown financing.”

The Orbis report also refers specifically to the aim of the Russian influence campaign “to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump,” based on information given to Steele in early August 2016. It was not until March 2017, however, that former director of the National Security Agency, retired Gen. Keith Alexander in Senate testimony said of the Russian influence campaign, “what they were trying to do is to drive a wedge within the Democratic Party between the Clinton group and the Sanders group.” A March 2017 news report also detailed that pro-Sanders social media sites were infiltrated by fake news, originating from “dubious websites and posters linked back to Eastern Europe,” that tried to shift them against Clinton during the general election. John Mattes, a former Senate investigator who helped run the online campaign for Sanders, said he was struck by Steele’s report. Mattes saidSteele “was writing in real time about things I was seeing happening in August, but I couldn’t articulate until September.” It is important to emphasize here that Steele’s source for the change in plan was “an ethnic Russian associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [who] discussed the reaction inside his camp.”

A slew of other revelations has directly tied many of the key players in the Trump campaign – most notably Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Michael Cohen, and Michael Flynn – who are specifically mentioned in the Orbis reports to Russian officials also mentioned in the reports.

To take one example, the first report says that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was responsible for Russia’s compromising materials on Hillary Clinton, and now we have reports that Michael Cohen had contacted Peskov directly in January 2016 seeking help with a Trump business deal in Moscow (after Cohen received the email from Trump business associate Felix Sater saying “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”).

To take another example, the third Orbis report says that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was managing the connection with the Kremlin, and we now know that he was present at the June 9, 2016 meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has reportedly boasted of his ties to ties and experience in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence.  According to a recent New York Times story, “Akhmetshin told journalists that he was a longtime acquaintance of Paul J. Manafort.”

The Orbis reports chronicle, and subsequent events demonstrate, that the Russian effort evolved over time, adapting to changing circumstances.  When their attack seemed to be having an effect, they doubled down, and when it looked like negative media attention was benefiting Ms. Clinton, they changed tactics.  The Orbis reports detail internal Kremlin frictions between the participants as the summer wore on.  If the dossier is to be believed, the Russian effort may well have started as an anti-Clinton operation, and only became combined with the separate effort to cultivate the Trump team when it appeared Trump might win the nomination.  The Russian effort was aggressive over the summer months, but seemed to back off and go into cover-up mode following the Access Hollywood revelations and the Obama Administration’s acknowledgement of Russian interference in the fall, realizing they might have gone too far and possibly benefitted Ms. Clinton.  However, when Trump won, they changed again and engaged with Ambassador Kislyak in Washington to get in touch with others in the Trump transition team.  As this process unfolded, control of operation on the Russian side passed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the FSB, and later to the Presidential Administration.  It should be noted in this context, that the much-reported meetings with Ambassador Kislyak do not seem to be tied to the conspiracy. He is not an intelligence officer, and would be in the position to offer advice on politics, personalities and political culture in the United States, but would not be asked to engage in espionage activity.  It is likewise notable that Ambassador Kislyak receives only a passing reference in the Steele dossier and only having to do with his internal advice on the political fallout in the U.S. in reaction to the Russian campaign.

Of course, to determine if collusion occurred as alleged in the dossier, we would have to know if the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting.  As mentioned, in February, the New York Times, CNN, and Reuters, reported that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election, according to current and former American officials.  Subsequent reports cite receipt of intelligence from European security agencies reporting on odd meetings between Trump associates and Russian officials in Europe.  And, perhaps the best clue that there might be something to the narrative of meetings in summer 2016 was former CIA Director John Brennan’s carefully chosen phrase in front of the Senate intelligence committee about the contacts – “frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”  This period will likely be the one most closely scrutinized by FBI investigators.

In retrospect, there is even some indication that the salacious sexual allegations should not be dismissed out of hand.  Efforts to monitor foreigners and develop compromising material is completely consistent with Russian M.O.  I am certain that they have terabytes of film and audio from inside my apartment in Moscow.  Putin himself is known to have been implicated in several sex stings to embarrass his rivals, to include the famous broadcast of a clandestinely-acquired sex video to shame then Prosecutor General Yuriy Skuratov.

Perhaps more intriguing, the most explosive charge in the Steele document was the claim that Trump hired prostitutes to defile a bed slept in by former President Obama.  The important factor to consider is that Trump did not engage with the prostitutes himself, but instead allegedly sought to denigrate Obama.  If there is anything consistent in what we have learned about President Trump, it seems that his policies are almost exclusively about overturning and eradicating anything related to President Obama’s tenure.  In this sense, he is akin to the ancient Pharaohs, Byzantine and Roman Emperors like Caligula, who sought to obliterate the existence of their predecessors, even destroying and defacing their images.  Is it inconceivable that he would get some satisfaction from a private shaming of the former President?

Separate Orbis reports also asserted that Trump himself engaged in unorthodox, perverted sexual behavior over the years that “has provided authorities with enough embarrassing and compromising material on the Republican presidential candidate to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.”  While it is not worth serious exploration, the notion that Trump might be involved with beautiful young women as alleged in the reports doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch.  His private life is well documented and litigated, such that it doesn’t seem wholly out-of-bounds to tie the reports about his activity in Russia with his history of undue interest in young women.  Again, there is no means to independently confirm the information and the media shouldn’t try.  An intelligence professional or investigator cannot shy away, however, and should try to ascribe some level of confidence in the information as part of the process of validating the various sources and the overall credibility of the reporting.  If the specific reports prove untrue, it would cast doubt on other reporting from that source.

In these cases, blackmail does not need to be overt to be useful.  Simple knowledge that a potential adversary might have compromising information can influence behavior.  Whether or not his subsequent behavior as a candidate and President is consistent with possible overt or subtle blackmail is beyond my ability to assess or the FBI’s ability to prove, and is instead for each citizen to ponder.  Suffice it to say that Trump’s obsequiousness toward Putin, his continued cover-ups, and his irrational acquiescence to Russian interests, often in direct opposition to his own Administration and Party, keep the issue on the table.

On the other hand, there is also information in the Steele reports that appears wrong or questionable.  For example, the notion that Steele and his team could develop so many quality sources with direct access to discussions inside the Kremlin is worth serious skepticism.  The CIA and other professional intelligence services rarely developed this kind of access despite expending significant resources over decades, according to published accounts.  It is also hard to believe that Orbis could have four separate sources reporting on the incident at the Moscow hotel. The reputation of the elite hotel in the center of Moscow depends on the discretion of its staff, and crossing the FSB is not something taken lightly in Russian society.  A source that could be so easily identified would be putting themselves at significant risk.  Further, additional information in the reports cannot be checked without the tools of a professional investigative service.  Of course, since the dossier was leaked, and we do not have additional follow-up reports, we don’t know if Orbis would have developed other sources or revised their reporting accordingly as they were able to develop feedback.  We also don’t know if the 35 pages leaked by BuzzFeed is the entirety of the dossier.  I suspect not.

* * *

So, more than a year after the production of the original raw reports, where do we stand?

I think it is fair to say that the report is not “garbage” as several commentators claimed.  The Orbis sources certainly got some things right – details that they could not have known prior.  Steele and his company appear serious and credible.  Of course, the failure of the Trump team to report details that later leaked out and fit the narrative may make the Steele allegations appear more prescient than they otherwise might.  At the same time, the hesitancy to be honest about contacts with Russia is consistent with allegations of a conspiracy.

All that said, one large portion of the dossier is crystal clear, certain, consistent and corroborated.  Russia’s goal all along has been to do damage to America and our leadership role in the world.  Also, the methods described in the report fit the Russians to a tee.  If the remainder of the report is largely true, Russia has a powerful weapon to help achieve its goal.  Even if it is largely false, the Kremlin still benefits from the confusion, uncertainty and political churn created by the resulting fallout.  In any regard, the Administration could help cauterize the damage by being honest, transparent and assisting those looking into the matter.  Sadly, the President has done the opposite, ensuring a Russian win no matter what.  In any event, I would suspect the Russians will look to muddy the waters and spread false and misleading information to confuse investigators and public officials.

As things stand, both investigators and voters will have to examine the information in their possession and make sense of it as best they can. Professional investigators can marry the report with human and signals intelligence, they can look at call records, travel records, interview people mentioned in the report, solicit assistance from friendly foreign police and intelligence services, subpoena records and tie it to subsequent events that can shed light on the various details.  We, on the other hand, will have to do our best to validate the information at hand.  Looking at new information through the framework outlined in the Steele document is not a bad place to start.