The Morning Jolt

Law & the Courts

Did Robert Mueller Find Evidence of Collusion Yet?

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, June 20, 2017 (Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Do we want the FBI launching counterintelligence investigations of presidents and other elected officials on its own authority? Who asked the Gillette corporation to lecture America’s men about good behavior? And what do you know about the real record of Kamala Harris?

Who Watches the FBI Watchmen?

The New York Times reported this weekend:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

Today the boss writes:

The Times story is another sign that we have forgotten the role of our respective branches of government. It is Congress that exists to check and investigate the president, not the FBI. Congress can inveigh against his foreign policy and constrain his options. It can build a case for not reelecting him and perhaps impeach him. These are all actions to be undertaken out in the open by politically accountable players, so the public can make informed judgments about them.

The Times went to note that special counsel Robert Mueller “took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.”

(This is the 609th day of the Mueller investigation. Remember when we were hearing that Mueller “is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections”? Good times, good times.)

If Mueller did find evidence that Trump was working on behalf of Russia, I’d hope he would tell the public sooner rather than later. This doesn’t seem like the kind of conclusion that you can leave sitting on your desk during a long weekend.

If he and his team didn’t find any evidence that Trump was working on behalf of Russia . . . this means that the FBI just launched an investigation into the personal matters of the president of the United States in a fit of baseless paranoia. Trump might have a ludicrously optimistic and naive perspective on Russia, but that’s not a crime. A lot of us thought the previous president had a ludicrously optimistic and naive perspective on Iran. That wasn’t sufficient evidence to launch an investigation of whether Barack Obama was an agent of Tehran.

Back during the 2016 campaign, more than a few Democrats argued that the FBI had a slew of agents with an axe to grind against Hillary Clinton. The Guardian quoted an unnamed agent who described the bureau as “Trumpland.” The Washington Monthly contended that “very senior FBI agents in the New York field office went rogue with their ‘deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton’ by leaking information to congressional Republicans and being insubordinate when told to ‘stand down’ on investigations that had no merit.”

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer argued:

Elements of the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency, acting out of a variety of motives, injured not Trump’s candidacy, but that of his opponent. For all Trump’s complaints about the FBI, without the intervention of members of both the FBI rank-and-file and Bureau leadership, he might still be living in Trump Tower.

Maybe some people believe that there’s only one form of political bias within the walls of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they think FBI agent Peter Strzok was just being fair, even-handed and objective when he texted Lisa Page that “we’ll stop” Trump in August 2016. It’s worth noting that the FBI inspector general did not see it that way.

Because of the possibility of conscious or subtle political bias affecting FBI officials’ judgment regarding decisions about investigations of political figures, in these circumstances, every “i” needs to be dotted, every “t” crossed. If you’re going to make a giant accusation like the president being a foreign agent, you had better have a significant amount of really compelling evidence.

Of course, Trump is his own worst enemy in this area. For example, if your political opposition keeps accusing you of being a Russian stooge, you would want to emphasize your opposition to Russia’s aggression — and from time to time, the president has done this. But he also keeps gravitating towards proposals that align with Russian strategic goals: “Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

You can’t save a guy who keeps choosing to put a fork in the electrical socket, over and over again.

Hey, Fellas, Maybe It’s Not Such a Good Idea to Lecture Your Customer Base

Dear God, this new Gillette ad looks like a hideous mash-up of every bad idea that could possibly come from a group of ad executives who asked, “Hey, how can we monetize the #MeToo movement?”

It begins with images from old Gillette commercials – which, let’s face it, were about as “old school masculinity” as you could get: the old “The Best a Man Can Get” commercials celebrated success, fitness, sports triumphs, the adoration of a beautiful woman, and fatherhood – all of those good things in life that just wouldn’t feel complete without their brand of razor. More recently they’ve used celebrities. Their commercial from last year with inspiring Seattle Seahawks rookie Shaquem Griffin – “Your Best Never Comes Easy” is really good.

The new ad features what looks like bad sketch comedy of unscrupulous male behavior and cliché villains: bullies chasing a boy; social-media hate; a condescending CEO; and in an image that really bugged me, an endless line of suburban dads at a barbeque, watching one boy pummel another, and shrugging, “Boys will be boys.” (Suburban dads make such convenient villains, don’t they? They have no formal rights associations that object to negative portrayals or threaten boycotts. You can portray them as hapless dopes or closeted monsters and no one’s ever going to protest your movie, television show, or commercial.)

The commercial throws in what appears to be a hip-hop video and a generic sitcom scene of a man pinching a maid’s behind. Hey, Gillette, 99.99 percent of the men watching this commercial didn’t create those videos or sitcoms. But I do know a big razor company that advertised on those shows!

Then we get another heavy-handed sketch-comedy level series of scenes of good men chastising others for bad behavior, particularly catcalling. One dad finally intervenes in the backyard barbeque wrestling match. One dad with a young son chases down a gang bullying another teen. Everything feels ham-fisted, just beating the viewer over the head with the message with all of the subtlety and authenticity of the old afterschool specials. The whole thing sounds like a hectoring, nagging lecture to all men for the sins of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and R. Kelly.

The commercial concludes, “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.” I agree completely — and I think that fact is so darn important that I don’t like seeing the sentiment used to sell razors.

Ben Shapiro looks at the statistics on parenting and teachers and observes, “More and more young boys lack male influence altogether. This isn’t to suggest that toxic male influence doesn’t exist — of course it does. But that toxic male influence has always been generated by peers rather than parents.”

This is a big, complicated, emotionally charged topic, where it’s proving all too easy to slide from denouncing bad behavior to denouncing “traditional masculinity” and masculine traits in toto, as the American Psychological Association recently demonstrated. At least the psychologists have a professional duty to contemplate what attitudes and behaviors are healthiest for men. Gillette is a $17 billion razor company that’s losing market share. Who asked them?

Meet the Real Kamala Harris

It’s another 20 things you should know about a Democratic presidential contender, this time Kamala Harris. She’s the tough-on-crime prosecutor with a not-so-great felony conviction rate in cases that go to trial and who refuses to pursue the death penalty for cop killers. She’s tough on some targets, though — parents of truant children. She insists that illegal immigrants are not criminals and in fact are eligible to become lawyers. She loves civil asset forfeiture and familial DNA searching, where the cops compare crime scene DNA to samples collected on geneology web sites and DNA testing companies. She wants to “reduce funding for beds in the federal immigration system,” rejects calls to hire more border-patrol personnel, and wants to “reduce funding for the administration’s reckless immigration enforcement operations.” She’s defended a ban on gun advertising that a judge ruled was “unconstitutional on its face.”

Her record is a much more target-rich environment than those glossy profile pieces would suggest. Can’t wait for these Democratic primary debates to begin.

ADDENDUM: A sharp observation from John Hayward: “A good deal of pathological online behavior is driven by sedentary people looking for a jolt of adrenaline. Outrage gets their hearts beating a little bit faster and gives them a fleeting taste of triumph.”

Would Americans be nicer to each other if we got out more?

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