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Durbin Confirms ‘Sh*thole’ Remark: Trump Said ‘Vile’ Things ‘Repeatedly’

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) confirmed Friday that President Donald Trump did refer to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform Thursday.

Trump had denied using the word “shithole.”

“He used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from shitholes,” Durbin told reporters Friday morning. “The exact word used by the President. Not just once, but repeatedly.”

“He said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist,” Durbin continued. “I use those words advisably, I understand how powerful they are. … You’ve seen the comments in the press. I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”

“To no surprise, the President started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words,” Durbin said. “It is not true. He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.”

Durbin said Trump not only called countries in Africa “shithole(s),” but also that he asked, “do we need more Haitians?” That was during a discussion of groups that have temporary protected status in the U.S. due to disasters or political upheaval in their home countries.

Durbin is the first member of Congress to publicly confirm that the President used the term “shithole.”

Trump had tweeted Friday morning denying he used that specific word.

In a statement Thursday evening, the White House did not challenge reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times about Trump’s language, but rather defended the President’s stance on striking merit-based immigration deal with lawmakers.

White House sources have also told reporters off the record that they think the President’s comments will please his base.

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benzado
2 days ago
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Trump’s Tirade is a Return of the Repressed in American Politics

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I am of Trump’s generation, and I grew up with the sentiments that he expressed about Haiti and African countries. When I was a kid, one of the hit songs in 1948 was the Andrew Sisters’ “Civilization.” You can click here to listen to it. Here’s a stanza:

So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t wanna leave the Congo, oh no no no no no
Bingo, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go
Don’t want no jailhouse, shotgun, fish-hooks, golf clubs, I got my spears
So, no matter how they coax him, I’ll stay right here.

So to many people of, say, sixty years or over, what Trump said resonated. It was all very familiar. So what? you might ask.

My point is this: that Trump has vocalized sentiments – and let’s just call them prejudices – that are in many Americans, but that in the wake of the civil rights and anti-war movements were suppressed in public, political discourse. Even George Wallace in his 1968 campaign never talked about “nigrahs.” Jesse Helms ran subtly racist ads (the famous “Hands” ad), but he never made an explicit racist appeal. Neither of those politicians would have publicly described Africa as a “shithole.”

And the American voter has grown, too. Think of those Trump voters who backed Obama in 2008 or 2012. Or the South Carolina Republicans who put Tim Scott in the Senate. That would not have happened in 1956. Tim Scott’s parents probably wouldn’t have been allowed to vote. America and Americans have changed.

What is so scary about Trump’s comment is that it genuinely represents a return of the repressed. It’s something people of Trump’s generation might still say around the bar at the country club, but would never say in public and that many, if not most, Americans know better than to act upon when they vote.

I always said this to people who wanted to reduce Trump’s voters to racists. My reply: I’m a racist, too – I get bad grades on those implicit racism tests that the political scientists give — and I would never have voted for Trump. Americans are complicated, and our political choices can’t be reduced to a single sentiment. But Trump is determined to prove otherwise. A Trump aide boasted to CNN that his comments would appeal to “his base.” That’s the perfect pun. His comments do appeal what is most base in us and our politics. He is the most dangerous politician to achieve high office during my lifetime.

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benzado
2 days ago
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Thoughts on Shithole and Racist Xenophobia At the Heart of Trumpism

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Let me take a moment to speak up for the word “shithole” which is seeing its reputation damaged by association with Donald Trump. We went to this dive bar. It was a total shithole. That town? Total shithole, never want to go there again. It’s a dump. Closer to President Trump’s ugly usage, Trump wouldn’t be the only American to call a poor or underdeveloped country a shithole. That’s not okay. But my point here is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the word – nothing more than any other not for polite conversation swear word. And even this ugly usage doesn’t capture the essence of Trump’s meaning.  The context and import of President Trump’s remarks are not simply that the countries are “shitholes.” It’s much more than that. It’s that we don’t want people from those countries because the awfulness of the countries attaches to the people themselves. Speaking of whole classes of people, specifically people of color, as basically garbage – is not only disgusting but entirely of a piece with the campaign President Trump ran in 2016 and the policies he is implementing as President today.

There are many examples in history of politicians who have moved the country forward in policy terms toward greater rights, inclusion, and equality but who nonetheless harbored various racist beliefs, used racist language or were simply racists. You can say that makes them hypocrites. A more generous and in many cases more accurate take is that we can’t always control or amend our ingrained impulses and prejudices. We all have prejudices which compromise us. Every single one of us. But the instinctive and ingrained is not the entirety of who we are. We also have the ability to see beyond our own limitations, shortcomings, and acculturation to see what is fair, what is right and what the future can and should be.

With President Trump, using the most denigrating language to say we don’t want immigrants from African or African diaspora countries but want white people instead is clearly and ably captured in his policies. Scare immigrants off, work the internals of the immigration system to expel a few hundred thousand Haitians here, a few hundred thousand Salvadorans there. Listen to President Trump, his key advisors and key congressional supporters and the issue is often dressed up as a matter of ‘culture’. Too many immigrants from different cultures will overwhelm and wipe out the America we know. Here President Trump, along with Steve King and the rest of the more or less open racists on Capitol Hill is just making the point explicit. They want to keep the US a majority white and culturally homogenous country. That is Stephen Miller’s core policy agenda. He remains one of Trump’s closest advisors. It is simply keep America as white as possible.

This is also what’s behind a ‘merit-based’ immigration policy and an end to ‘chain-migration’. On its face, the idea of a merit-based policy doesn’t sound so crazy. We certainly want the best scientists and engineers and doctors and entrepreneurs to come to America. But we already do that. A big part of the immigration system is geared around doing just that. Maybe we should do more of that – though there are obvious downsides to importing say computer programmers when we have a lot of native-born Americans who want jobs as programmers too. But the key point is that if your whole immigration system is based on “merit” you’re going to exclude a ton of people from countries where the kinds of advanced degrees, training and wealth that constitute “merit” in this sense just aren’t available. Overwhelmingly those will be countries that are poor and don’t have white people.

Trumpism is ethnic-nationalism, rightist ethnic nationalism, specifically white ethnic nationalism. That’s been crystal clear from day one with the talk about Mexico sending its rapists and murderers to America, with the hyper-politicization of crimes committed by immigrants and especially undocumented immigrants. There are more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Obviously, a percentage of them will commit crimes, even heinous crimes, though there’s substantial evidence that immigrants commit less crime than the native-born. It isn’t about crime. It’s a form of racialized incitement.

The heart of Trumpism has always been fueled by panic over the decline of white privilege and a rapidly changing demography in which whites are no longer the overwhelming majority of Americans and in a few decades likely won’t be a majority at all. (The uncertainty is not so much numerical as taking into account the fluid definition of whiteness itself.) This need to yell “stop!”, to turn back the tide to an earlier America is the beating heart of Trumpism.

In the shithole remarks we see it very unadorned: why do we want more low-quality non-white people? To Trump, it is an obvious and urgent question. Arguments about cultural assimilation are often prettied-up in right-leaning policy journals as concern that too rapid immigration doesn’t give enough time for assimilation and thus threatens social stability. That may be true at extremely high levels of immigration, though here in New York City we have a massive immigrant population (documented and undocumented) and we seem to do fine as the safest big city in the country. But with shithole you get to the heart of it which isn’t these prettified, intellectualized theories but rather a voice of contempt and dehumanization about people who – let’s just say it – aren’t white.

“They are taking over” is the backdrop of Trumpism. The shithole comments make that crystal clear. It’s not just exclusion but a palpable dehumanizing contempt. The words only matter in as much as they illustrate the ugliness of what is currently happening and that is real and much more important than mere words. Trump administration policy means to and is in the process of, implementing the “shithole” mindset which is to say get rid of as many “outsiders” as we can and keep new ones from coming in.

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benzado
3 days ago
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Did Trump Ever Have a Chance?

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Six months ago I joked that the President’s defenders would eventually come around to arguing that we should pity the President rather than hold him in contempt because he’d been raised in a culture of criminality and had no experience following the law.

The weird thing is that I’m now coming around to that defense. Now, needless to say, it’s no defense. But allow me to explain. Because I do think it is illuminating, inasmuch as something as dark as President Trump’s predatory, criminal instincts can be brought to the light. Three times in recent days we’ve seen references to the President’s belief that Attorneys General for Presidents Kennedy and Obama protected them from the law and that Trump had great respect for this. He has displayed a running rage and contempt for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, once his most important political ally, because he failed in this most basic of duties: protecting the President from the law.

One oddity about this repeatedly stated belief is this: why Obama and Kennedy? Obama makes sense. Trump sees everything through the prism of Obama. But why Kennedy? That was decades ago. There have been many presidents since. Three of them, besides Kennedy and Obama, were Democrats. One of those, Richard Nixon, had an Attorney General who literally went to prison for crimes he committed on the President’s behalf.

Why these two Presidents are the point of reference is a mystery I hope to see solved. (Perhaps it is something Roy Cohn, a nemesis of Robert F. Kennedy, told Trump back in the day or perhaps it has something to do with how both men were and are idealized.) But for now, the relevant point is that President Trump actually seems to believe this. Trump is such an instrumentalist in regards to truth-telling that it may be impossible to fully separate his belief from bad faith. But to the extent Trump believes anything I think he believes this. He not only wants his Attorney General to protect him from the law. He thinks that’s how it’s supposed to be and in fact has been.

Why should Donald Trump be the only President to get treated like a chump?

As he told Michael Schmidt of the Times, “When you look at the things that [the Obama administration] did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.”

We see these attitudes as the mindset of a would-be authoritarian. And they are. But they are also the attitudes of a criminal. By this I mean not simply someone who has broken the law. I mean someone who has no inherent respect for the law or great fear of its enforcement and breaks the law more or less casually when it is convenient and relatively safe to do so. Typically, such people see the trappings of the law as little more than a mask for the exercise of power. This is clearly Trump’s view of the world. Just as clearly he saw becoming President as essentially becoming the law. It is the ultimate power and what comes with that is legal invulnerability for him and his family. He earned it.

If you’ll allow me a whimsical comparison, this reminds me of a classic Star Trek episode from 1968: A Piece of the Action. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, the Enterprise travels to a world, Sigma Iotia II, that has been culturally contaminated by earlier contact with humans. A hundred years earlier a starship had visited the planet with its highly imitative culture on the verge of industrialization and inadvertently left behind a book on mob rule in Chicago in the 1920s. Believing the visitors were superior beings or even gods, the Iotians built a society based entirely around what is described in this book. It is their ideal society. They refer to it as “the Book”, in effect their bible. In other words, the Enterprise finds a world in which everyone is a criminal – but not criminals in the sense of deviants from a social norm of lawful behavior. They inhabit a world in which criminality is the what is aspired to, valorized and proper.

Everyone on this planet is crook and a thief. But you can hardly blame them since they were born to be crooks in a society that made crime and the acquisition of power by violence the highest good. The episode plays the concept largely for laughs. But the idea is most readily comparable to mob families we know from dramas like The Sopranos and The Godfather. Tony Soprano and Vito Corleone aren’t against the law. It’s just something like the weather that you deal with and work around and maybe even use sometimes but all and only in the service of personal and family power and wealth. The key theme of all mob drama – and presumably to some degree the reality of mob culture – is that the law is for chumps, a crutch for those who aren’t man enough, powerful enough to get what they want without it. This sounds very much like the mindset of Donald Trump and his family. Who would be a fool enough to become President of the United States and not use the power for legal invulnerability?

Throughout the last year, and particularly in the reporting we’re seeing in recent days, a persistent theme is that Donald Trump not only sometimes breaks the law but has no familiarity or experience following it. The idea of limits is simply alien to him. We see this repeated pattern of aides scurrying around, plotting amongst themselves, all trying to prevent him from doing things that are not only clearly illegal or even unconstitutional but wildly self-destructive. The months’ long effort by even the most transgressive and aggressive aides – folks like Steve Bannon, for example – to stop Trump from firing James Comey is the most vivid and high-octane example. Very notably, the biggest advocates for firing Comey were not Trump’s wildest advisors but members of his family – Jared Kushner and, now it seems, Ivanka Trump too. It’s the immediate family members and the lickspittles and retainers he brought with him from his private sector fiefdom, The Trump Organization – Dan Scavino, Hope Hicks, et al. It’s a Family in every sense. They have no experience following the law, all reared in a culture of inter-generational criminality.

Obviously, I’m playing this for laughs at some level or having some fun with it. And in any case, even if we use Trump’s family background and acculturation to understand his criminal mindsight, society needs to defend itself from habitual criminals and those who view themselves as above the law. But there is a reality here and it’s a reality I think is key to understanding Trump and the situation the country is currently in. As his top advisors and aides seem to realize as clearly as anyone, Trump is wholly unable to follow the law. He needs to be monitored closely to prevent him from breaking the law. And don’t get me wrong. Many of these folks are not at all the best people. They’ll break the law. But they’re also acculturated into law-abiding society. So they have a sense of how to do it sparingly or at least discreetly so as to at least avoid getting caught. Trump seems to have no such experience. That all worked out fairly well when he operated his fiefdom out of New York, using hyper-litigiousness (paradoxically) to preserve his invulnerability, working the tabloid media culture for the same purpose and cultivating an enabling and protecting relationship with the local offices of the FBI (a still mainly untold story).

Quite simply he doesn’t know how to follow the law. The same seems to apply to his family. The fact that the constitution makes him the person ultimately responsible for enforcing the laws of the United States is a mismatch that will and indeed eventually must blow apart. It’s only a matter of time. Indeed, in some sense, it’s already happened.

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benzado
10 days ago
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Some Random Speculations about Trump, Bannon, and Wolff

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I am trying to write a book, but I keep getting diverted by events in my hometown. The latest is the furor over Michael Wolff’s portrayal of Donald Trump and Trump’s break with his former aide Steve Bannon. I have three marginal reflections about this that have to do with Trump’s physical and mental state and with the way he governs.

The most damaging and also questionable anecdote in the New York excerpt of Wolff’s book is when, according to Wolff, Trump, in response to Roger Ailes’ post-election recommendation of John Boehner as chief of staff, says, “Who’s that?” The suggestion is that Trump didn’t even know who Boehner was.

In the Washington Post, Paul Fahri points to prior tweets that Trump had made about Boehner, which certainly cast doubt on Wolff’s anecdote. Here without any reporting is my speculative interpretation of what actually happened: Ailes did recommend Boehner, and then Trump, who, it turns out, is hard of hearing – he has complained several times about not hearing or mishearing reporters’ questions – asked “Who?” not “Who’s that?” As someone who is hard of hearing, I am often asking “Who?” to people. But I broke down and got hearing aids. I strongly suspect Trump is too vain to admit he needs them.

If I am right about this, then it explains a) what really happened and b) much of Trump’s completely one-sided conversational interactions with people, which Wolff also cites in his story. He doesn’t listen because he often can’t entirely hear.

My second thought is about Trump and Bannon and the story going around that the Mercers are mad with Bannon because Bannon insinuated that they would fund his, Bannon’s, presidential campaign. What’s interesting about that is that if it’s true, it shows how daffy Bannon is. You had two men. Trump and Bannon, each of whose view of the universe is skewed, converging briefly in their vision like someone wearing stereoscopic lens, but who now no longer, so to speak, see eye to eye.

And that brings me to thought number three: about Trump and Reagan. In California in the late ‘60s, we leftists believed Reagan was a complete dimwit who would destroy himself first in the gubernatorial campaign and then in the governorship. We were wrong. And people in DC thought that Reagan would also nosedive in his 1980 campaign and then in his presidency – and for the same reasons. Wrong again. (And I am not saying I agreed with what Reagan did, only that he largely succeeded in what he set out to do.)

I don’t actually think Reagan was dumb or that Trump is. Neither man is particularly reflective nor tolerant of details. But Reagan surrounded himself with some exceptional people – I am thinking particularly of James Baker – and listened to their advice without losing control of his presidency. He began to lose it in his second term – probably as his advanced age set in – but in his first term, he wielded authority very effectively. Trump does not. And it’s one thing that is scary about his presidency. And part of that has to do with the kind of person he is and Reagan was.

When I went through William F. Buckley’s papers, I discovered that Reagan was a very private, and even introverted, man. Even good friends like Buckley had trouble getting a word out of him. Buckley often had to correspond with Reagan through his wife Nancy. Reagan only came alive on stage and on the hustings. Trump, by contrast, appears to live only in and for the public – a stance that encourages chaos in his life and administration. The show is always going on. What should be his private emotions are constantly on display. And it’s coming out now as he conducts a third grader’s feud with Bannon and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.

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benzado
11 days ago
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The End of the Beginning

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One of the things we will be focusing on on the Russia front in 2018 is not simply breaking a lot of news but on narrating the bigger picture. It can be a difficult story to make sense of because it has so many tentacles. There are so many disparate and far-flung parts to keep track of and make sense of. One of the top themes of Glenn Simpson’s and Peter Fritsch’s must-read oped published yesterday in The New York Times is that the focus on conspiracy during the 2016 campaign cycle has almost totally eclipsed examination of Donald Trump’s longstanding involvement with the Russian criminal underworld and money laundering which laid the basis of what happened in 2016. (That has always seemed to be Trump’s greatest fear.) We’ll come back to that.

So where are we now in this story? A series of revelations in the final weeks of 2017 placed us at what we should think not as the beginning or the end but the end of the beginning. We are still only at the front end of this investigation. We still know only the outlines of what happened and how. But we are past any serious question about whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. There was. It’s no longer a matter of probability, even high probability. We know it from either undisputed facts or sworn statements from Trump associates now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

As I wrote a week ago, the entire ‘controversy’ over the Steele Dossier is meaningless in any substantive sense. Even if it were literally propaganda from the DNC comms office it wouldn’t change the facts about what the FBI and then Mueller investigations have already uncovered. It is classic misdirection and mendacity in its most direct form. Steele wasn’t some oppo researcher. He was one of his country’s top Russia spies, very well-placed to conduct such an investigation. He was and is trusted and held in high repute by the FBI, in part because of his work in the FIFA scandal. But the storm of abuse and misinformation from Trump supporters have nonetheless cast his work under some public taint. The aforementioned OpEd by the men who run Fusion GPS, I think, finally sets the matter straight. The dossier wasn’t the origin of the investigation. But it added to US counter-intelligence concerns (perhaps more like alarm bells) because as Simpson puts it, “our sources said the dossier … corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp. The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign.”

To my mind, as I’ve explained in other posts, even before the reports from friendly intelligence services started pouring in, there were a lot of worrisome details US intelligence knew about Donald Trump. Those certainly added to the mood of apprehension as hints of the conspiracy began to emerge in early 2016. On this front, the 2016 conspiracy, the Papadopoulos revelations play a key role.

He was hardly some inconsequential figure in the campaign. He actually had a much more central role than I had realized until after his plea agreement was released. I thought he was just some doofus whose name they slapped on a press release to have some list of advisors they could point to and then more or less forgot about. That’s not so. He was a ridiculous figure who had no place being one of five foreign policy advisors for what turned out to be a future president’s campaign. But he was involved editing and conceiving his major policy addresses. He held meetings on behalf of the campaign. He even helped arrange a meeting for Trump with President Sisi of Egypt late in the campaign. This is not the description of a marginal figure.

Sam Clovis told Papadopoulos on joining the campaign that a rapprochement with Russia was the campaign’s top foreign policy priority. He immediately set about trying to meet with Russian figures and their cut-outs. They quickly obliged and learned from them that the Russians had stolen emails from the Democratic party and Hillary Clinton which they would use to damage her campaign. He bragged about it to an Ambassador of a top US ally. He certainly communicated this key information back to his superiors in the campaign. To think otherwise simply defies credibility.

Nor should it have surprised them. They already had other messages of support from Russia. They’d have more. Through the Spring and Summer of 2016 Russian operatives and emissaries made numerous overtures to Trump associates and campaign staffers. It’s stunning just how many different approaches there were. There were those to George Papadopoulos. There was the meeting at Trump Tower where the President’s son Don Jr welcomed assistance from Russia. Indeed, that wasn’t the first communication along that channel. Wikileaks was reaching out to Don Jr too. They were also reaching out to Trump advisor Roger Stone. Other campaign staffers and advisors were beginning a series of meetings with the Russian Ambassador which would eventually lead to the calls which (in lying about them) made Mike Flynn a felon. Jared Kushner was involved and used the on-going conversation and exchange to try to finagle a bank loan to save his family’s real estate empire.

There were not one but numerous instances in which Russian cut-outs or intelligence officers reached out to Trump associates with offers of support and/or news of stolen documents to support his campaign. These overtures were eagerly reciprocated. None of them were reported to US authorities. While this was happening, Trump’s pro-Russian statements became more aggressive and explicit on the campaign trail. Soon after, J.D. Gordon, the lead on the campaign advisory group, which informally oversaw Papadopoulos, Page and the rest intervened on that Ukraine platform plank which got press soon after.

The oddity of that platform decision has always been that it’s just not that big a deal. No one pays attention to platforms. It’s certainly not some big ask Russia would have had even if you imagine a big, hard conspiracy that went right to the top. That’s not the way to see it. Russia was mounting a far-ranging effort throughout the campaign to elect Donald Trump. This involved theft, espionage, various kinds of covert and overt propaganda. They were reaching out to the Trump campaign offering help and they consistently got a welcoming response. They were assured Trump wanted a new deal with Russia and an end of sanctions. Trump started saying as much.

Changing the platform was just another way to signal friendliness and desire for a new start. Russia was covertly offering help; the Trump campaign welcomed it. While they were welcoming support and specific actions from Russia they kept upping the ante, publicly promising a rapprochement. By any reasonable standard this is collusion. The Papadopoulos thread of the story is only the clearest and most recent example. We already know about multiple other examples. The key thing is this: starting in late July the DNC emails emerged. Later the Podesta emails emerged. These were the emails they’d been told the Russians had stolen and intended to release. Russia was immediately suspected as the culprit, right from the last week of July when the first batch was released. No one in the Trump campaign ever said: We heard about this. We were contacted. We think we might have information on these thefts. Not publicly. Not to the FBI. Not to anyone. That speaks for itself.

Now-President Trump even went so far as to publicly ask Russia to steal more of Clinton’s emails. I’ve always thought this was largely a joke. But it was a serious joke. He said while almost certainly knowing that his campaign knew that Russian had done what many suspected. Certainly high level advisors knew. They said nothing. Again, that speaks for itself.

If the law followed the standards for conspiracy and collusion which Trump supporters now demand there would be countless mafiosi, white collar criminals and drug traffickers back at home rather than in prison.

In this Aug. 25, 2016, file photo, Sam Clovis speaks during a news conference as then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, watches before a campaign rally in Dubuque, Iowa.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

We know there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during 2016. We just don’t know how much. We don’t have proof about how high it went. Did Trump himself know? How much did his longstanding but pre-campaign role with Russian organized crime and money laundering play into Russian efforts to secure his election? (That’s actually the question that most animates my mind.) What about Paul Manafort, the man who fortuitously and really inexplicably ended up as Trump’s campaign manager, despite decades out of US politics, who himself had two decades of history working with and for the same Russian and Ukrainian oligarch elite? What about Sam Clovis, Trump’s campaign co-chair, a key early foreign policy advisor and the guy who was on the receiving end of so many of Papadopoulos’s emails? Does it stop with him? Did he really never tell anyone else what was happening? Did he encourage Papadapoulos to keep moving forward on his own account?

Those remain the live questions. But I say the end of the beginning because the core question about collusion has been answered in the affirmative. We know this. Any reasonable survey of the evidence now makes this clear. What remains uncertain is whether it was (improbably) limited to a few non-central members of the campaign or whether it went right to the top.

That’s what we’ll learn this year.

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benzado
11 days ago
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