April 12, 2018

Mueller probe's power dynamics make it like Plame Affair, not Watergate or Lewinsky

It's time to zoom out from the nano-hysteria du jour on the Mueller probe, and look for historical parallels to see what's going on and how it will play itself out.

To begin with, the details of the case are irrelevant since this is not a prosecution based on suspicion of a crime having been committed, and devoting precious finite resources to this rather than to other crimes. It's clearly a shape-shifting pretext used to further an attack in a collective conflict -- Team A targeting Team B, picking off as many as they can, however they can.

In this case, it's the Feds (DoJ and FBI) vs. Trump's circle. This witch hunt is not partisan, as all the principal actors are Republican. The Special Counsel investigation started with Russian interference in the 2016 election, but has gone in any direction from there that they please (unlike a real prosecution).

The Feds started the beef by putting Trump's circle under surveillance during the campaign, and turning up the heat even more after he won, by insinuating that his circle had colluded with the Russian government to swing the election away from its rightful winner, Crooked Hillary Clinton, who did not threaten to "drain the Swamp" or show up to the CIA headquarters to call them all a bunch of fifth columnists.

Trump escalated the feud by bumping off one of their top guys -- FBI Director Comey -- which prompted their side's de facto leader, Deputy AG Rosenstein, to appoint Special Counsel Mueller to hound the Trump circle about anything they could dig up, not only the Russian interference ideas.

But those are just the particular details -- they do not have anything to do with who's going to win the feud, as though there were some dispassionate God of Justice that will divinely intervene if the outcome looks to be going the wrong way for the side that has logic and evidence on its side. Nope: it all comes down to power dynamics. This is a pure power play between two sides, so that's what we will analyze.

Drawing on the theory of political cycles by Stephen Skowronek, we note that Trump (and his circle) belong to the dominant party -- the GOP, which has been dominant since the current political paradigm was established by that party in 1980 under Reagan. Dominant party presidents do not get impeached or de facto removed from office -- only opposition presidents suffer that fate. Clinton was a Democrat during Reaganite GOP dominance, Nixon was a Republican during New Deal Democrat dominance, and Andrew Johnson was a Democrat during Civil War Republican dominance.

Not surprisingly, those presidents also faced a hostile Congress -- both houses belonged to the rival, dominant party. A mismatch between the White House party and the Congress party already sets up for a showdown, but when the target president is from the opposition party, he begins in an even weaker position.

The dominant party uses their control over Congress to rein in a president from the opposition, lest they threaten the dominant party's paradigm. The facts of the matter are immaterial, and they will find whatever pretext they need to get revenge for the opposition president trying to undo a key element of the dominant party's paradigm.

In Johnson's case, it was slow-walking the abolition of slavery, a key plank of the dominant Republican paradigm during the Civil War. In Nixon's case, it was pulling out of the Vietnam War, when militarism was a key plank of the dominant New Deal Democrat paradigm. In Clinton's case, it was promoting universal healthcare, an assault weapons ban, and other liberal goals during the Reagan GOP paradigm.

Since Trump is from the dominant party, and so are both houses of Congress, we can conclude that he will not be impeached by the House, let alone removed by the Senate. Even if the Dems take over the House during the midterms, they will not also take over the Senate (the map is stacked against that). So they would face the choice of impeaching the president knowing full well that the Senate would reject it easily. They will be seen as having wasted a bunch of time, money, and emotional energy -- just for a big fat disappointment that was totally predictable from the start.

Clinton got impeached but not removed by the Senate, but that was not totally predictable -- with the Senate being controlled by the rival, dominant party, it was certainly possible. If a Dem-controlled House thinks of impeaching Trump, they know from the outset that they'll get shut down by the GOP-controlled Senate, making their efforts knowingly pointless, rather than a risk they think is worth taking.

But what if a miracle happens and the Dems take back both houses of Congress? That never results in impeachment either, not even during the increasingly polarized climate of the past 40 years. Reagan's last two years were under a Dem-controlled Congress, as was all of Bush Sr's term, and the last two years of Bush Jr. Neither came close to getting impeached, and not for want of a pretext either -- there was the Iran-Contra scandal during the late '80s and early '90s, and the unpopular Iraq War during the late 2000s.

However, there were Special Counsel investigations that hit on those themes, and did result in taking out some of those close to the president. So we may see -- in fact, we are seeing -- that level of collective attack toward the president's circle. But unlike impeachment, these were totally internal factional fights within the dominant party. In neither case did the president himself get wounded personally. Therefore, neither will Trump himself.

The first case was the Special Counsel investigation of the Iran-Contra affair. We won't dwell on this one since the power dynamics didn't match those of today. They had a dominant GOP president and an opposition Democrat Congress. This case would only apply if Democrats took over both houses of Congress in the midterms and launched a new or beefed-up Special Counsel investigation for Trump's final two years.

The important points are as follows. Both the Special Counsel and those he was prosecuting were from the dominant party, making it internal rather than partisan. Those who got indicted or sentenced would later get pardons from Bush Sr, another member of the dominant party, in the last days of his presidency. The dominant party ultimately protects its own members.

When Congress is controlled by the opposition party, it may make the executive branch members of the dominant party concerned when scandal erupts. If the opposition Congress takes over the matter, they could start impeachment hearings. So instead, the dominant party gets out in front of things, and through executive branch options like a Special Counsel investigation, they open up what looks like an in-fight, although ultimately the president will pardon or commute the damage done to members of his party.

Rather than the Iran-Contra scandal that took place in the context of an opposition-controlled Congress, the Mueller probe is shaping up to be more like the Special Counsel investigation during a period when the dominant party controlled the White House and Congress -- the Iraq War-themed Valerie Plame affair of Bush Jr's first and second terms, although before the opposition party took over the Congress in 2007.

Briefly, the narrative went as follows. Bush was busy lying the American public into the Iraq War by insinuating that Saddam Hussein would soon have weapons of mass destruction, and toward that end he had tried to get uranium from Niger. The diplomat sent to Niger to investigate that claim, Joseph Wilson, wrote op-eds in the NYT saying Bush's claim was bogus. His wife was an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame, who recommended her husband for the job of investigating the "Niger uranium" claim.

This public undercutting of Bush's rationale for war pissed off his administration, some of whom in the VP's circle decided to get back at the whistleblower. How? By revealing to a conservative columnist that the whistleblower's wife was a CIA agent, whose job and full name the columnist then revealed in a newspaper article. But it turns out she was undercover! With her cover blown, Plame's career as a spy was over -- and that's what you get for helping to undercut the "Saddam has WMDs" rationale that the admin was pushing to get us to accept the Iraq War.

That's what Special Counsel Fitzgerald was investigating. Again, forget these details of the case, since they don't matter -- power dynamics matter -- but just so the background is clear.

As in the Mueller probe, all the powerful characters were in-fighters from the same dominant party, the GOP -- the AG (Ashcroft) who recused himself just like Sessions, the Deputy AG who took over the investigation (Comey -- yes, the same one as now), the Special Counsel (Fitzgerald), the fantasy dream targets (President Bush and VP Cheney), and the members of the White House circle who actually did get investigated and/or indicted (Armitage, Rove, Libby). A Republican media columnist was also central (Novak), although he doesn't seem to have a counterpart in the Mueller probe.

As in the Mueller probe, it's impossible to summarize the shape-shifting course of the investigation and the acts it was investigating -- check out the Wikipedia entry linked above, and try digesting the gist of the zillion words in less than three weeks.

Or Google "valerie plame affair" and see how many endless results pages you get that seem to be talking about nothing, yet very seriously. Over ten years later, nobody remembers it who was not obsessed with the micro-scoops on it back during its original media-seizing run -- unlike Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, etc.

And these obsessives were from the opposition party, largely from the media sector, and were certain that something would be revealed from the Special Counsel that would bring down the illegitimate ("selected, not elected") president and his administration -- and wound up with nothing but a terminal case of blue balls.

In the end, only the Chief of Staff to the VP, Scooter Libby, got indicted, and even then Bush commuted the prison part of his sentence so that he avoided jail. One of the perks of being a dominant-party president is knowing that you and your circle will never be in any ultimate legal danger.

Libby didn't commit an underlying crime, but was found guilty of process crimes during the investigation itself (perjury and obstruction of justice). The true culprit of the underlying crime -- leaking that Plame was a CIA agent -- was the Deputy Secretary of State Armitage. Yet he was not prosecuted, even though the Special Counsel knew from the get-go that he was the culprit -- the Special Counsel just wanted to go on a fishing expedition to put a few more notches on his prosecutorial belt.

Analogizing from there to the Mueller probe, they find some crime related to the 2016 election, let's say a campaign finance violation from paying hush money to Stormy Daniels. Someone linked to it, say Trump's attorney Michael Cohen, will get indicted and/or sentenced. The president commutes or pardons Cohen. Maybe commutes or pardons Flynn, whose indictment is not related to the 2016 election (process crime). Maybe commutes or pardons Manafort, whose crime was also unrelated to the election -- money laundering long before -- although that seems harder to sustain, since it's not a mere process crime.

At any rate, nobody from the actual Trump administration gets indicted. Manafort and Cohen never joined the government, and Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of five seconds before Deep State railroaded him out. These people from his outside-the-government circle get protected.

Nobody remembers jack shit about any of the details of this investigation in 5-10 years, unless they were already addicted to the daily micro-scoops when it was originally on TV. Future observers are puzzled when they unearth how much media content was obsessively devoted to the investigation.

Trump's presidency, like Bush Jr's, does not get remembered fondly by most people, although the Special Counsel investigation will play no part in the story of what made it bad -- except perhaps as a meta-commentary on the ridiculousness of the investigation itself and its obsessive consumers in the media.

So, it's not crucial for Trump to somehow end the investigation. He himself is in no ultimate danger, and neither are the members of his circle. Worst case scenario, someone like Cohen gets an indictment on mickey-mouse charges like campaign finance violation, but gets pardoned anyway, and only carries some embarrassment afterward, which no one remembers.

The only thing that would put him in danger is if he keeps escalating his feud with the Feds -- firing Comey was what triggered the Special Counsel investigation to begin with, which is more powerful than the original FBI investigation into bogus Russian involvement in the election. The Feds would strike back this time as well, and he might also alienate members of his own party in Congress.

If enough of them disowned him from what they consider "their party," they wouldn't have his back any more than they would a president of the rival party or a third party. And since he's a disjunctive president, whose mission is to radically alter the paradigm of his own party, they already would like to see him leave office, so they can go back to their comfortable, familiar old paradigm of Reaganism.

As annoying as it is, he's just going to have to let the sucker burn itself out.


  1. "A Republican media columnist was also central (Novak), although he doesn't seem to have a counterpart in the Mueller probe."

    Perhaps the cadre of Never Trump political fixers, and to a lesser extent, NT journalists, fit this role.

    Back then, anti-war conservatives were mere anklebiters, not much needed to be done about them. Today, they got one of their own elected president and this flank seems to be primarily responsible for kneecapping his allies (with the help of the media, but how long will that last?).

  2. Speaking of the Plames, is there something to the timing of the silence of Julian Assange?

    "This document makes very clear that the threat was truth. WikiLeaks emerged five years after the invasion of Iraq, which was started when governments lied about weapons of mass destruction. That was the justification for the invasion of Iraq, which killed about a million people and caused the flight of some four million others from the country.

    This poisoning case in Salisbury appears to be a lie of a similar nature. But we’re not talking about a war this time with a Middle Eastern country. We are talking about a war with the second most powerful nuclear-armed state."


  3. Another similarity b/w Mueller probe and Plame Affair, in power dynamics, is the opposition party's media operatives lionizing the Feds and the CIA -- the former for going after the dominant party in the WH (via Special Counsel investigation), and the latter as supposed martyrs for the anti-administration cause.

    In the Plame affair, it was CIA agent Plame and her husband, a former ambassador from the State Dept. She was undercover doing anti-WMD proliferation work, to ensure that the US and its allies continued to have as many WMDs as they wanted, while their enemies would have as few as possible.

    She was not an anti-nuke / disarmament activist -- just a spook trying to maintain a destabilized world where we can nuke whoever whenever, because they don't have the nukes to strike back. That's unstable since it prods them to get nukes as fast as possible, or pursue other means of deterring us or striking back at us.

    But these particular Deep Staters disagreed with some particular aspect of the admin's larger program. They thought Saddam was not shopping for uranium in Niger. That makes them anti-interventionists? Or just that they didn't agree with that specific piece of the rationale for the war?

    Yet that disagreement was enough for the opposition party to champion them as leaders of the Resistance against the dominant party's program.

    That led the opposition media further into championing the national security blob per se -- attacking the WH for putting its petty partisan concerns for protecting its inner circle, above the sanctity of the NatSec Establishment.

    "The neocons are the REAL spook slanderers! We good liberals now love and defend our brave men and women in the intel agencies, as they stand up to the warmongering president's circle."

    Not much of an exaggeration, see e.g. David Corn in The Nation:


    David Corn and Michael Isikoff wrote a whole book on that theme regarding the Plame affair.

    And guess who shows up now to write a book called "Russian Roulette" about how the Trump admin is putting its petty partisan concern for shielding the WH's inner circle, above the sanctity of the foreign policy blob Establishment? Why, Corn and Isikoff, without missing a beat.

  4. To complete the analogy for today, the foreign policy blob victim akin to Plame was Hillary Clinton -- former Secretary of State. The wrongdoing against her was stealing the election somehow -- whatever the means. The perps were the dominant party campaign for president, who did in fact win and go on to occupy the WH (Trump's circle).

    What was she being punished for? Publicly undercutting the foreign policy goals of the dominant party's WH-to-be -- namely, getting along with Russia. For criticizing that goal, she became the victim of damaging leaks -- Podesta email WikiLeaks -- supposedly orchestrated by the dominant party's admin-to-be.

    Maybe the narrative shifts to hush money payments by the admin-to-be in order to prevent damaging info from coming out about the pres-to-be's affairs with porn stars or whatever. Still, in a zero-sum contest for the highest office in the nation, preventing damage to A is tantamount to leveling damage upon B. Thus, Clinton is still the victim of the dominant party's machinations that are retaliating against her for criticizing their larger goals.

    Note that the foreign policy goals pushed by the admin in the Plame affair and the Mueller probe are contradictory -- Bush was pushing the Iraq War, Trump wanted to get along with Russia. One is interventionist and extending the Cold War conflicts, the other is anti-interventionist and unwinding the Cold War conflicts.

    So when the opposition party -- its pols, its media operatives, its citizens -- raises hell over the WH's goals, it has nothing to do with the substance of the policy. Under Bush, they were apparently anti-intervention and anti-Cold War; now under Trump, they are apparently pro-intervention and pro-Cold War. Hence, nothing of substance to their thinking -- just emotionally charged partisan hatred.

    Get the dominant party who won the election -- illegitimately! -- by attacking their larger goals, no matter what those goals happen to be, and even if we end up contradicting our policy position from less than a decade ago.

    This is another line of evidence showing that the facts of the matter are irrelevant, and it is pure power plays among dominant vs. opposition parties, factional disputes and rifts within each side, and so on. For the major players, it is entirely about the will to power, not achieving a particular vision of society.

  5. And the third, ironic line of evidence showing it's not about substance but power plays, is that Trump's admin IS NOT GETTING ALONG WITH RUSSIA.

    Trump, as a disjunctive president, is not managing to radically alter his dominant party's paradigm. They're escalating tensions with Russia, despite the sui generis president wanting the opposite.

    Bush Jr, as a status quo president for the dominant party, got exactly what he wanted -- war in Iraq, and how.

    If the opposition party was focused on undoing those foreign policy goals because they wanted to implement the opposite of that vision, then the liberals and Democrats should have called off their hysteria by now.

    "Oh wait, on Russia relations Trump is getting cockblocked by the entirety of his own party that controls the whole government -- guess we don't have to worry about our govt cozying up to Russia after all! Guess we can call off the calls for the Special Counsel to round up as many admin figures as possible. Guess we can stop lionizing members of the Blob like HRC as though they were martyrs, and stop championing the Feds as though they were our saviors."

    Nope -- they are no less intent on having the Special Counsel get as many admin figures as possible, on whatever charges, in whatever way necessary. Will to power, not achieving a vision.

  6. The good news, again, is that they won't manage to get anybody real, it will be on mickey-mouse charges, and the president will easily pardon or commute the sentence.

    And because the whole affair was substance-free, nobody will remember it in 5-10 years. They might remember a high-stakes power play by the opposition party to dethrone the dominant party, but that it didn't pan out, and let's not remember how pathetically we lost and wasted so much time, money, and emotional energy obsessing over our doomed power play.

    It wasn't the Plame affair that turned over the Congress to the opposition, or the WH two years after that. It was the whole range of substantial disagreements that the voters and elite sectors had with the Bush Jr years.

    No Democrat campaigned in 2008 about "Vindication for Valerie!" or any stupid shit like that. It was about the Iraq War and Middle East interventionism per se, the bubble economy popping, bald attempts to privatize or slash the social safety net, and so on and so forth.

    When the Bernie revolution sweeps in during the 2020 election season, it won't have anything to do with this retarded Mueller probe. It will have to do with student loan debt and the higher ed bubble, the broader bubble economy popping, Medicare for all, higher minimum wage, less of our failed militarism around the world, and industrial policy.

    Not that this will stop the deluded bubbleheads in Hollywood from making a movie out of the Mueller probe -- just like Sean Penn did with a film version of Saint Valerie's life and career, starring Naomi Watts. But that will be the end of this ridiculous fixation.

  7. There's a major mistake among Trump supporters to push him to fire Mueller / Rosenstein / Sessions / whoever, or otherwise shut down the probe.

    That would only trigger a greater backlash from the Feds' side of the feud, like when he fired Comey in the first place and got Mueller and the no-holds-barred Special Counsel investigation.

    He likes to troll, humiliate, and demoralize -- so just do that to the other side. Openly compare the Mueller probe to the Plame affair -- no real substance, a naked power play by the Feds, championed by the airhead liberals who suddenly love the FBI in the vain hope that they'll take down the WH in a way that their shut-out political party cannot do itself, managing to only nab a few minor members of the WH's circle, and even then on mickey-mouse charges, who will certainly get pardoned or have their sentence commuted.

    The Feds' side of the feud will fail to take down the admin, the cheerleading liberals on the sidelines will be so deflated by the disappointment that they'll commit suicide, and the 99% of the country that doesn't give a shit about this opposition media obsession will get on with real issues like what Trump and Bernie are pitching as new visions for our society.

    Not only will that humiliate the other side and deny them the escalation they're begging for, it will provide an extra layer of meta-commentary by referring back to the last time they made this kind of doomed power play instead of focusing on the real issues that matter to voters and to the elite sectors.

    Remind them of their failed track record, and rub in the humiliating loss that they might have forgotten about -- open up all those old psychic wounds and pour salt on them!

  8. Best response to Comey's tour is opening the wounds of the Plame affair, where he was the de facto AG, and humiliate the Feds and deluded liberals all over again. Mock their proven losing track record, don't bother debating their argument or credibility.

    "Comey failed to take down WH in Plame affair, and so will Rod! Minor characters, mickey-mouse charges -- with pardons or commutations inevitable! Quit giving liberals false hope in the phony Feds, and move on to real issues."

    Make it clear that it's all a power play, and that the dominant party sitting in the WH will win over sidelined liberals and the Feds (as long as Trump doesn't take out any more of their side in the feud). Balance of power says Trump's circle will win, no doubt about it.

  9. Trump to pardon Scooter Libby! Someone in Trump's ear reads this website! Blogs rule, forums drool!

    Rachel Maddow and NeverTrumper Nicolle Wallace melting down in real time!

    Next, say her name -- Valerie Plame!

    Open the wounds! Pour the salt!


  10. David Corn to me is always going to be the guy with crazy eyes who lead the warpath against and confronted... Joe the Plumber (2008 election).
    Speaking truth to power, what is that?!?

  11. Chapo Trap House gets the joke:

    "Robert Mueller, Imma let you finish, but Patrick Fitzgerald was the greatest liberal false hope for a legal deliverance from a political problem OF ALL TIME!"


    Replies there refer to "Fitzmas" --

    "Fitzmas" is the atmosphere of excitement and anticipation preceding the conclusion of Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury investigation into the Bush regime's treason and perjury.

    My Fitzmas list has expanded from just Scooter and Rove; I secretly hope I get a Cheney indictment or resignation because I've been a very good boy this year.

    #bush #treason #plame #treasongate #plamegate #rove #libby #cheney

    by Reilly-o October 24, 2005


    Come to think of it, I think the Chapo gang discussed the Plame affair in one episode. Actual self-reflection -- what a waste for us to get sucked into, delusional to put hope in the Feds, why didn't we focus on real issues or do real activism, etc.

    And none of them have been into the Mueller probe this time around either, instead making fun of all the dumb Establishment liberals for binge-watching and live-blogging the Valerie Plame Affair reboot.

    As calcified as the entire GOP may be, at least there's a large and growing faction within the Dems (Bernie revolution) who are capable of self-reflection, focusing on real issues, and leading the way out of the hellscape we're trapped in.

  12. Heads exploding among HRC boosters over Libby pardon, especially the professional talkers.

    They never really forgot about it -- their initial infection just slipped into dormancy, and now in a weird kind of neoliberal shingles, has erupted again to destabilize their brain even worse than the first time.


    When will they learn that no one believes that "Rethuglicans are the REAL nemesis of NatSec, Democrats are the REAL Fed-defenders"? All these Deep Staters are lifelong Republicans, and law enforcement and the military are about as Republican as you can get.

    Intel agencies being a bit more informational, somewhat more Dem-friendly, but still a Republican bastion (albeit of the faggotized Egg McMuffin NeverTrumper type).

    No, MSNBC, crowding your panels with failed neocon dipshits is not going to win over Independents or Republicans to the Democrat side. And no, running spooks as your candidates is not going to take back the White House.

    This re-inflammation of the Plame virus will clear out so many of the dead-end "Democrats for Deep State" zombies, in the view of ordinary voters, ahead of the Bernie revolution.

    How much more irrelevant could you make your faction ahead of a historic primary battle, than to make heroes out of over-zealous federal prosecutors? I'm sure the urban black population will LOVE the message that sends!

    That'll make Bernie's inroads into the Af-Am electorate all the easier, where he'd had trouble before.

    "The Establishment wants you to believe that the Feds are your saviors. [Boooo!] Well, as a great Civil Rights leader might say to us today, we're not gonna be hoodwinked and bamboozled by The Man. [Da's right!] We need criminal justice reform in this country, not misplaced blind faith in over-zealous prosecutors. [Amen!]"


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