Sometimes it feels good to be a dupe

 In U.S.

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On the roster: Sometimes it feels good to be a dupe – FBI missed a tip on Florida shooter – Immigration deal stuck in gridlock – The Mitt-ness, Senate edition – Runtime error

American dupes of the Kremlin during the Cold War were known to the KGB as “useful idiots.”

The Americans who unknowingly helped the Kremlin make the 2016 presidential campaign the fetid sewer that it was, may or may not have been useful, but they sure do look like idiots.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today handed President Trump and his legal team one of their best moments so far in the investigation into Russian meddling. 

In the surprise announcement of charges against 13 Russians for using real-life methods amplified by social media to generally sow chaos in American politics and specifically harm the competitors of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Trump, Rosenstein used the magic word: “unwitting.”

Rosenstein was at pains to point out that no criminal wrongdoing was being charged against any American citizens. There is one, Richard Pinedo, who has reached his own deal with prosecutors for identity theft apparently related to the Russian scheme. But, the unmistakable thrust here is that the Russians, not the Trump campaign itself, are the bad guys. 

We would encourage you to read our colleagues Alex Pappas and Judson Berger to get a more detailed picture, but there are, apparently, Americans who got taken by Russians posing as citizens and helped the Muscovite malefactors do their thing. 

If you were one of those marching on Trump Tower after the election or attended certain campaign events over 2016, we hate to be the ones to tell you, but you got took. 

It must have been great fun for Vladimir Putin & Co. to watch American politics burn down like a house made of balsa wood. Using made-up American social media accounts, the Kremlin not only succeeded in helping Trump, but, probably more significantly deepening hatreds among Americans and doing discredit to an electoral system once considered among the finest in the world. 

Things are probably a lot less fun for Vlad the Emailer these days. His country’s rampant Olympic cheating kept it out of Pyeongchang, his client state of Syria is not unwinding the way he had wanted as Americans step up attacks and, now, he has been charged for his campaign rigging in official manner.

Now, it’s not like Moscow is going to extradite the people charged, especially the oligarch buddy of Putin’s who prosecutors say bankrolled the operation. But this does mean that the West is finally coming to an agreement about how villainous the Putin regime has been in undermining elections.

These charges, combined with the turpentine-strong comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials about Kremlin efforts aimed at the upcoming midterm elections make clear that we will not do as Trump himself once suggested and write the whole thing off as some kind of whodunit. It was not, in fact, some 400-pound person sitting in their basement or a 12-year-old, but a concerted, well-founded effort. 

The good news for Trump that anyone in his orbit who helped the Russians did so without intent or knowledge is unambiguously helpful for the president and his legal team. But it does come at a cost to the president’s ego. Affirming the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, especially as he seems to be sticking closely to his original mandate so far, will help Trump battle back against claims that his campaign colluded with a hostile foreign power. 

But it also means admitting that the Russians were a factor. 

There has never been any allegation of vote rigging, and as Rosenstein pointed out, nothing to show that the interference was determinative in any way. But, it also was certainly aimed at helping Trump.

We will never know the real motives of any American voters beyond what they tell us in polls. But we also know that an effort this large had some effect. Did it make the difference in the Upper Midwest? We will never be able to say. But with margins that tight, plenty of folks will draw their own conclusions. 

That is the sweet and sour nature of today’s news for the president and his defenders. There’s no accusation of a crime, but ample evidence of foolishness and unambiguous pro-Trump tilt from the Kremlin.

One would assume that the legal benefits of these findings to Trump will outweigh the embarrassment, but only insofar as one can assume anything about politics at this moment.    

In this case, it’s good to be an idiot, it’s just hard for any of us to think of ourselves as having been useful to the wrong people.

“What, then, are the distinctive characters of the republican form? Were an answer to this question to be sought, not by recurring to principles, but in the application of the term by political writers, to the constitution of different States, no satisfactory one would ever be found.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 39 


Atlantic: “Why would weather follow an interstate? [Ann Finkbeiner] had an epiphany: maybe because I-95 follows the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line. … [I-95] follows the Fall Line and the cities are dotted along the Fall Line. The cities and roads are where they are because of what the Fall Line is: a more or less invisible, small, underground cliff—an escarpment—that marks the old edge of the continent. On the Fall Line’s west side, the high side, are tough crystalline rocks; on the east side, the low side, are soft, easily moveable sediments. … Cities grew along the Fall Line, roads connected the cities. It’s all so logical. But why would weather follow the Fall Line? It doesn’t, of course—because weather is much more complicated—except when it does. … As an epiphany, it’s not much. Weather follows I-95 because I-95 follows a change in elevation which accompanies a change in temperature.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 39.4 percent 
Average disapproval: 55.8 percent 
Net Score: -16.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.2 points 
[Average includes: Fox News: 43% approve – 53% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve – 57% disapprove; Marist College: 39% approve – 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve – 55% disapprove; IBD: 35% – 58%.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.4 percent
Democratic average: 47 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points 
Change from one week ago: no change in points 
[Average includes: Marist College: 49% Dems – 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems – 40% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems – 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems – 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems – 38% GOP.]
Fox News: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered an ‘immediate review’ after it emerged that the FBI had not acted on a recent tip that Florida school shooting suspect … wanted to ‘kill people’ and there was the ‘potential of him conducting a school shooting.’ In a statement, the bureau admitted to receiving a call on Jan. 5 from a person close to [the shooter] who contacted the FBI through its Public Access Line (PAL) tipline to express concerns about his erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts. … ‘Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,’ the statement said. … The FBI concluded that the caller’s information was not forwarded to the Miami FBI field office, and that ‘no further investigation was conducted at the time.’ FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau would review what had happened.”

House may end restriction on studying mental health and shootings – USA Today: “House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said Thursday Congress should remove restrictions it has imposed that prevent the federal government from studying mental health issues that lead to gun violence. Goodlatte … said it was time to end a 22-year restriction that forbids the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying the links between mental health and gun violence. That restriction was written into law by Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican who died in 2017. Before his death, Dickey said he grew to regret the restriction he had authored. … On Thursday, Goodlatte agreed, saying it was time to allow the CDC to research the issue.”

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