Why the heck were high-level officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation discussing an “insurance plan” in case of Trump’s victory?
In a text from August 15, 2016, Peter Strzok tells Lisa Page: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office” — an apparent reference to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe — “that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.” Page does not appear to have responded, according to records reviewed by CNN.
As the former No. 2 official in counterintelligence, Strzok helped lead the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server and was involved in opening the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, but he was reassigned to the human resources division this summer. Page was also briefly on Mueller’s team before returning to the FBI, but she completed her detail before the special counsel’s office was made aware of the texts.
Was “the path” an investigation into Trump with a lot of leaking, designed to impede his presidency from day one?
A couple of days ago, in response to the not-terribly specific descriptions about these figures sending texts that were political and critical of Trump, our Andy McCarthy — former federal prosecutor — urged everyone to wait and see the full details. “If you’ve made up your mind that Peter Strzok is responsible for tanking the Hillary Clinton case, and that he was putting his thumb on Mueller’s scale against the Trump administration, you are way out ahead of what we actually know — and you’re probably wrong,” he wrote.
Now McCarthy is significantly more troubled. On Twitter, he wrote, “ Obviously, this is not political banter. Clearly indicates professional duties infected by political viewpoints, which is disqualifying.”
It is not enough to be fair. Things must appear fair — even more so when a special counsel, appointed precisely to avoid the appearance of bias, is concerned.
In Mueller’s case, there are various grounds for worry. The investigative team Mueller has assembled includes Democratic donors and supporters, including one lawyer who represented the Clinton Foundation and one who represented a subject in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Personally, I am not much alarmed that several of Mueller’s staffers have anti-Trump political views. But as more evidence emerges, I have become increasingly disturbed about whether those views will taint perception of the Mueller investigation, particularly in the case of Andrew Weissmann, a key Mueller deputy. A gifted career Justice Department lawyer, Weissmann sent former acting attorney general Sally Yates an effusive email shortly after Yates was fired for insubordinately defying Trump on enforcement of the so-called travel ban. The obstruction aspect of Mueller’s investigation calls for an objective evaluation of how much independence law-enforcement officials have from the chief executive. Weissmann’s lauding of Yates suggests he is not objective on this point.
Ironically, this is why Trump probably shouldn’t order that Mueller be fired. Whatever Mueller finds, Trump can argue that it is the unreliable work of a partisan crew that openly expressed a desire to prevent his election and derail his presidency, going back to 2016. Trump can win that argument in the court of public opinion, in part because it’s true, or at least true enough. Mueller shouldn’t have included Strzok, Weissman, Jeannie Rhee, or Aaron Zebly on his team and it’s reasonable to suspect that partisan passions may have influenced their decisions and perspective during the investigation. (All of those figures also should have had the good judgment to realize they were jeopardizing Mueller’s effort by signing on to help.)
If Trump fires Mueller, then there will be demands that another special counsel take his place — and that counsel would be able to continue Mueller’s work without the perception of partisan bias.
The Mouse Buys the Fox
Back on the old television show Fringe, there was a fictional megacorporation called Massive Dynamic that advertised with the vaguely ominous slogan: “What do we do? What don’t we do!”
How long until we feel that way about Disney-Fox, or whatever the new merged megacorporation is called?
Walt Disney Co. is close to a deal to acquire a large piece of 21st Century Fox Inc., people familiar with the situation say, in a pact that could help the entertainment giant accelerate its ambitions in streaming media, shore up its television business and grab hold of lucrative movie franchises.
The deal, expected to be announced Thursday, would value the assets Disney is acquiring at $60 billion, including debt. Those assets include the Twentieth Century Fox movie and TV studio, cable channels including regional sports networks and key international properties. They don’t include properties such as Fox News and broadcast assets.
If Disney can afford to buy almost every entertainment brand in the world . . . I guess they were right, it really is a small world after all.
The bad news about this deal is that one super-conglomerate will soon own and run so many of our entertainment options. Ask any new parent how much Disney stuff they have in their house. Disney owns Pixar. Disney owns Star Wars. Disney owns Marvel’s superheroes. Disney owns the Muppets. Disney owns ABC television, ESPN, and half of A&E. Disney owns 30 percent of Hulu. From your youngest years with Mickey Mouse and the Muppets, to Star Wars and Marvel, to ESPN, to A&E, you’re probably watching a Disney product at every stage of life.
More than a few conservatives contend they see some heavy-handed propagandizing in Disney’s entertainment options. The controversies about ESPN growing more political are well-covered. Julie Gunlock recently laid out the increasingly crass and activist tone on the programs of the Disney Channel and Disney XD. Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, has grown increasingly vocal about topics like the DACA program, the Paris climate accord, and gun control.
Even if the new mega-company is relatively apolitical, at what point do arguments about a monopoly or a near-monopoly kick in for the world of entertainment? Hey, it’s not like we’ve just heard about monstrous abuse in the entertainment industry enabled by particular individuals having the ability to create or destroy careers in Hollywood, right?
The good news is that in the world of the movies, the X-Men can now join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Way back when, Marvel Comics sold the rights to make movies about their superheroes to several different companies: 20th Century Fox got the X-Men and related mutant characters like Deadpool; Sony bought the rights to Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four; Universal had the Hulk; and New World Pictures bought the rights to the Punisher. When Marvel Studios launched, it had the rights to what was left over . . . and what rights had returned back to the comic book company. It turned out Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were pretty popular in their own right, and Marvel was able to reach a deal with Sony to bring Spider Man back into their universe and share the profits. (Thus the in-joke of the title of this summer’s movie, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”)
Actor Chris Evans jokingly pitched, “Who do I talk to about a Cap/Human Torch buddy comedy spin-off? I’m thinking Planes, Trains, and Automobiles meets Parent Trap.” (The joke is that he played both characters.)
In Marvel’s comic-books, all of these heroes operate in the same world and have cross-over adventures pretty regularly, and that’s one of the aspects that makes Marvel’s movies fun. Thor needs help from Doctor Strange, Iron Man is mentoring Spider-Man, Captain America’s third movie featured a conflict that affected just about every heroic character seen so far. But the X-Men can’t appear (and don’t appear to exist in Marvel’s cinematic fictional world so far) because 20th Century has the rights.*
(It’s fair to wonder if this separation is actually for the best, because the Marvel comics universe featured a world where the X-Men and mutants were distrusted and feared by the general public for their powers, while the Avengers were largely trusted and celebrated. More than a few writers struggled to write around that contradiction. The real reason is that the two sets of characters were created to tell two different kinds of stories — one for classic adventure stories and the other for an allegory about discrimination and being an outsider.)
*One odd exception: In the comics, the super-fast Quicksilver was a longtime character in both the Avengers and the X-Men series, and so the studios negotiated for two slightly different versions of the character to appear in the separate movie series.
Someone, Please Make This Argument to the President!
Victor Davis Hanson makes the most sympathetic case for Trump to quit Twitter: his daily controversies and fights are distracting from the stuff he’s actually getting done:
Trump’s record speaks louder than his tweets and now transcends his electronic spats. So why should Trump still care what a minor journalist tweets about him to get much-needed attention? Why does the president need to keep pounding increasingly irrelevant former FBI director James Comey, who has been reduced to tweeting anti-Trump slogans? Trump’s record has now transcended his Twitter ankle-biters, who have become ever shriller in seeking attention in the form of electronic counter-put-downs. In sum, Trump has outgrown the Twitter wars. He should now just declare victory, retire as Twitter champ, hang up his tweeting gloves, and leave the slap-down ring for others.
ADDENDA: Steve Bannon, before Tuesday’s election results were in: “If Moore loses, the firestorm against McConnell will reach a fever pitch, people will be off the chain. They will come for McConnell like you’ve never seen before and Shelby will be finished down there.”
Senator Richard Shelby is not up for reelection until 2022. He will turn 88 that year. I suppose that if Shelby retires, then yes, he will indeed be “finished.”