Trump expected splashy Wall Street Journal coverage of Hunter Biden’s emails. He was disappointed

Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculous waterlogged laptop story wasn’t supposed to be the way the public learned about an alleged trove of Hunter Biden emails. It was supposed to come from a much more reputable Rupert Murdoch-owned publication. Not even Fox News, which passed. No, some ostensibly more reputable Trumpsters were trying to sell the email story—minus the laptop angle—to The Wall Street Journal. 

Eric Herschmann, the former Trump impeachment lawyer turned White House adviser, former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, and a public relations person who’s buddies with Don Jr. met with WSJ reporter Michael Bender in early October, The New York Times’ Ben Smith reports. At that meeting, they handed over Hunter Biden emails—including some of the same ones Giuliani supposedly got from the laptop—and put his former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, on speaker phone to make allegations that Joe Biden had profited from Hunter’s corrupt use of the family name. That effort to sell the story ran into one big problem: The Wall Street Journal took its time investigating and decided there wasn’t a lot of there there.

While that investigation was ongoing, Giuliani got the New York Post to run his laptop story, which quickly came under question. (Questions like “Are you f’ing kidding me?” and “So Rudy’s basically a Russian asset now, right?)

But Donald Trump knew that The Wall Street Journal was supposedly going to be doing a story on the emails, and he was excited, telling aides that an “important piece” was coming in the paper. While “The editors didn’t like Trump’s insinuation that we were being teed up to do this hit job,” a reporter told Smith, the investigation into the emails continued. But it didn't go on Team Trump’s schedule, which called for a major, splashy article before last week’s debate. Instead, the eventual WSJ article came after Bobulinski went to the press himself, and Trump tried to make him an issue in the debate. The headline of the short article eventually published? “Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture.”

That’s not exactly what the White House lawyer and former White House lawyer were looking for—they wanted the New York Post insinuations laundered through the respectability of the WSJ. And of course the whole story is further discredited by having multiple overlapping sets of Hunter Biden emails being pushed around by different parts of Team Trump. The laptop story is dubious enough on its own—man from California delivers laptop to Delaware repair shop where blind Trump-supporting owner can’t identify him as Hunter Biden but figures it out from Biden-related sticker on the laptop, etc etc etc, improbability stacking upon improbability—but when you know that that wasn't the only set of supposed Hunter Biden emails, well, it really screams Russian influence campaign. And it screams Trump desperation for any game-changer in the campaign, however illegitimate.

Giuliani’s smear on Hunter Biden is so ridiculous, Fox News passed on it … then covered it 24/7

Once upon a time—also know as 2019—Donald Trump tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine into making false claims about Hunter Biden. Trump got caught, got impeached, and got not even a slap on the wrist from Senate Republicans who were willing to allow Trump to do anything in exchange for a flood of conservative judges. After all, when you’ve already waved off the Hatch Act, ignored federal laws over nepotism, and blown off an endless stream of lies … what’s a little extortion of an ally for political advantage?

When Trump didn’t get what he wanted from from Volodymyr Zelensky, he put both U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani on the case. Barr grabbed U.S. attorney John Durham and opened up an investigation that saw him flying around the world in an attempt to find someone reputable who would lend the slightest credence to Trump’s incredible claims. Giuliani … just skipped out on the “reputable.” Instead, he grabbed a pair of foot soldiers for a Russian oligarch, latched onto some officials who had been kicked out for corruption, and worked directly with an “active Russian agent” to produce a whole series of false claims and fake evidence. 

That brings us to now. Barr’s efforts have apparently come up dry. One part of his investigation has already shut down, Durham’s top assistant has resigned, and there’s no report worth even a patently false summary before Election Day. The Giuliani side has produced a hard drive. A hard drive supposedly dropped off in Delaware by a man who lived in California, at a shop owned by a vocal Trump supporter, where the security footage was mysteriously wiped, the blind shop owner could not identify the person who dropped it off, there was no name or contact information provided, and no one ever returned for it. 

Giuliani’s story is so ridiculous that both Fox News and the New York Post reporter who was forced to write it both disowned it. After years of trying to smear Biden, this really is the best they can do.

As Mediaite reports, the New York Post was hardly Giuliani’s first choice in trying to get this contemptible last-ditch effort into the media. It’s unclear how many other places he went first, but it is clear that he came to Fox News with his story of an unclaimed laptop. Fox News looked at the story, got out their 10-foot pole, and carefully pushed the whole pile back to Giuliani.

After all, this is far from the first time that Giuliani has come up with supposedly shocking information that just happens to support Trump’s every delusional claim. In September, it became clear that Giuliani was working closely with U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo. It’s since come out that the packet of information that Pompeo shared with Republican lawmakers, but not with Democrats, did not come from sources within the State Department. He was simply laundering pages for Giuliani. Naturally, Trump’s personal attorney could not stop bragging about this. At the start of October, he told CNN that he was the source for the Biden information in Republican’s hands. 

This information was enough that Louie Gohmert and Paul Gosar, DDS were willing to scrawl their signatures on a letter to the Justice Department, along with nine other Republicans out of 250 in the House and Senate. But the many, many places where the Giuliani’s claims weren’t just wholly unbelievable but clearly connected to a known Republican disinformation campaign against Biden did bother a few other people.  

Not only is there the little problem of there being absolutely no provenance concerning the hard drive itself—everything about the story of where it was found has holes the size of ocean liners. The shop owner has given various accounts about how the laptop (or laptops, since he at one point claimed there were three), entered his shop; he’s been completely contradictory about how it came to the attention of the FBI; and when and how Giuliani became involved in the affair is as clear as mud. Also, there’s a little matter of how dates on the files found on the machine seem to be from months after the machine was supposedly dropped off.

But just because Fox News wouldn’t take it directly, that doesn’t mean that Rupert Murdoch wasn’t willing to step in to help out his pals. After the story was turned away from Fox News, it was shuffled over to the Murdoch-owned paper where New York Times reports reporter Bruce Golding was tasked with taking the documents, and Giuliani’s ravings, and turning them into an article. But once he heard the whole tale, Golding refused to put his name to the piece. So did other journalists in the Post news room … and this is a paper that just last year went with a front page emblazoned “Bezos exposes Pecker.”

Instead, the story eventually ran under the byline of Emma-Jo Morris. Morris is a former booker for Sean Hannity’s show on Fox, who made the trip across to the Post just in time for Giuliani’s Russian fabrication to be her very first article. A second name on the article was Post reporter Gabrielle Fonrouge. Fonrouge’s name ended up there in the most efficient manner. The Post’s editors put it there, and didn’t tell Fonrouge until after it was published.

All of this works perfectly for Fox, for the Post, for Giuliani, for Trump, and most importantly, for Putin. Fox doesn’t have to front the story. With the story in the Post, Fox can report on it. They can ask Republicans to comment on it. They can construct great rambling opinions from Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. The Post can then report on the comments their story is getting on Fox. Trump can retweet it all. Republicans in the House can cite all of the above as justification for demanding William Barr whip up a special investigator. And Vladimir Putin … can laugh. 

Bolton claims he wanted to release information during impeachment, was blocked by White House

John Bolton wrote a book. That seems kind of hard to remember now, but you may recall it as the one that came out just before the one from Donald Trump’s niece that confirms Trump as “the dumbest student” his school had ever seen, and before the book by Bob Woodward that explains how Trump knew about the deadliness of COVID-19, but decided to ignore it because he thought it would be a political “win.” But it was definitely after the 40-something other books (not kidding) about Trump. Somewhere in there.

Once upon a time—with that time being, unbelievably enough, the first month of this interminable year—what Bolton had to say might have mattered. With multiple witnesses at Trump’s impeachment having parts of the story about the effort to extort lies from the government of Ukraine, Bolton was uniquely positioned to fill in critical gaps. His testimony might have carried weight and had historical significance. Senate Republicans eventually voted that they didn’t want to hear from Bolton, or from anyone else, but well before that the former national security adviser made it clear that he wasn’t interested in talking anyway. He was saving it all for his book, where it wouldn’t do a damn thing for the nation but could earn him a tidy profit. Bolton, through his personal decisions, made himself into a minor footnote. 

Even so, it seems that the effort to suppress his book went deeper than has been known, and included interfering with a routine investigation. Because thanks to men like Bolton, there are no rules.

Bolton’s book was originally slated to appear in March. That was then pushed back to May, and eventually slid into June. The biggest reason for the slide was that even though the manuscript had been sitting with the White House for months, the publisher could not get a signal that the book did not contain classified information. Such investigations are routine, and usually result in either a thumbs-up or a list of information that needs to be removed or edited before publication.

That didn’t happen in this case. As the book rolled on toward its final publication date, Trump accused Bolton of knowingly including classified information. The William Barr Justice Department trotted off to do what they always do: act as Trump’s personal attorneys in court. That attempt to block release of the book eventually failed—not least of all because Barr moved at a point where the book was literally on the shelves of bookstores nationwide. However, the judge did have harsh words for Bolton, suggesting that he could forfeit that much-desired profit and possibly face additional penalties for the release of confidential information.

But now it seems that it wasn’t just Barr who was responsible for putting the book on hold. Because other members of Trump’s team interfered with the routine security clearance review of the book, purposely holding the book up to diminish its impact. Meaning that even as they were taking Bolton to court for moving ahead without getting clearance, they were also making sure that he never got clearance.

Bolton’s attorneys made this claim in a letter to the court on Tuesday. As The New York Times reports, Bolton now claims that he wanted to release one portion of his book—a portion relevant to the impeachment trial—at that time. But White House aides blocked the security review even though Bolton didn’t believe that there was any classified material in the section.

At the heart of this appears to be a lawyer named Michael Ellis who was a former assistant to (of course) Rep. Devin Nunes. Despite no background or training in security reviews, Ellis directed the official in charge of the security review to put a freeze on Bolton’s manuscript while he conducted “his own review of the book.” It was Ellis who then claimed that the book was “replete” with classified information. Ellis’ review then became the basis of the Department of Justice claims against Bolton.

No one is crying for John Bolton. Or his mustache. And at this point, the idea that he might have released some information at the time of the impeachment except for some maneuver by the White House dodges the fact that Bolton could have stepped in front of every news camera in the country and told everyone what he knew. However, the attempt to stifle Bolton is just another example of the lengths that the Trump White House has gone to to silence dissent, and the willingness of every Republican involved to throw “normal process” in the waste bin. 

This scandal has to be the last, no this scandal has to be the last, no this scandal has to be …

Since Tuesday, America has been caught up in the effort to process the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t simply ignorant and bull-headed when it came to failing to address the coronavirus pandemic. Trump was fully aware of the danger, repeatedly briefed on necessary actions, and fully cognizant of what was required to save American lives. He choose to … go another way. A way that involved repeatedly lying to the nation and talking about how the virus would “just disappear” even as he was privately admitting that he knew better.

That admitted lie is so shocking that it’s hard to remember that, just a week ago, the nation was busy being shocked to learn about the depth of Trump’s disdain for veterans. Multiple sources both within the White House and the military confirmed that Trump had not only displayed incredible disdain for John McCain, but for fallen soldiers at a military cemetery, calling them “suckers” and “losers.” Even Fox News had no problem confirming the story. Trump even explained to military leaders—military leaders—that he didn’t want veterans in his parade, because he found amputees unsightly.

A week before that was the news that the Department of Homeland Security had deliberately covered up evidence that Russia was working behind the scenes of the 2020 election to assist Trump with false claims about Joe Biden’s competence. That effort included dismissing the official in charge of counterintelligence, telling Congress they would get no more briefings on election security, and refusing to hand over standard reports. All while Trump was not only continuing to lean on the Russian talking points, but making racist claims about Kamala Harris. And in the middle of all this, snippets from Michael Cohen’s book suggested that not only had Trump extorted support from a televangelist with threats of revealing a pool boy three-way, but he gave a pretty good indication that the Russian “pee tape” is a real thing. 

There’s a reason the Fascism Watch ticked down to midnight back on Jan. 31. That’s when Republican senators made it clear that Trump was free to do anything he pleased, no matter how odious. America might not have gotten that message. Trump already knew it. 

It wasn’t until Feb. 6 that the Senate actually voted to give Donald Trump an official pass, despite a mound of evidence that he had used his high office to extort a foreign power into lying about a political opponent under threat of withholding military and economic assistance. It was exactly the sort of abuse of power available only to the White House. Exactly the kind of crime for which impeachment was created. There is not the slightest shred of doubt that Trump did it. But Republicans not only refused to hold Trump accountable—on Jan. 31 they made it clear that they would not even allow a single witness to speak in Trump’s “trial.” They didn’t care about Trump’s misuse of power. They didn’t care about lying to both Congress and the public. They just “owned the libs,” gave themselves a high five, and went on vacation.

Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans handed Donald Trump not just an absolute pass, but a clear signal that they would neither hold him to account for any action, nor challenge any statement he made. Why is it then any surprise that the next day Trump felt free to say that COVID-19 would go away in April? Why is it any surprise that Trump decided to cancel a planned national testing strategy because he thought COVID-19 would kill more people in Democratic states? What possible reason would there be for Trump to not cooperate with Russia in planting rumors about Biden? It’s not like anyone is going to do something about it. 

And, of course, why shouldn’t Trump feel free to lie about COVID-19? It’s not just the Senate that’s happy enough to go along with whatever Trump has to say. The media is right there for him, supporting him in a very special way.

A tale of two front-pages: @nytimes the morning after the Comey letter telling of discovered duplicative emails...and this morning's after we discover Trump knew and lied about a virus which has gone onto kill almost 200,000 Americans. pic.twitter.com/VjdgmvmmR0

— person woman DAN camera tv (@DaytimeDan) September 10, 2020

Following the astounding revelation that the FBI had found some additional copies of unimportant emails it had already seen, The New York Times not only filled every single column of its front page with this critical story, it handed over a large portion of that page for comments from Donald Trump. When Trump admitted lying to the nation about COVID-19, the “paper of record” not only thought this was a good day to devote two-thirds of its front page to an accidental explosion had happened over a month before and 9,000 miles away, but neither Biden nor any other Democratic leader was sought out for comment. Instead, the Times continued to represent the epitome of access journalism. It may seem that they, like much of the media, have learned nothing since 2016, but that’s not really true. They’ve learned exactly what it takes to keep getting interviews with Trump.

Republicans have learned they can get from Trump an endless stream of judges whose reading of the Constitution includes only one amendment, massive breaks for billionaires, and dropping all pretense of fighting corruption. And outlets like The New York Times have also learned that Trump will come through for them with an endless stream of jaw-dropping scandals that make great copy … so long as no one sticks with one story long enough to make impact. All for the low, low price of surrendering any pretense of integrity. A bargain.

Republicans are not about to call out Trump for his murder of 200,000 Americans. Or for his lies. Or for anything else. They made it all possible. So did a media more interested in seeing what the next scandal is than really driving home the impact of the last one.

For both of them, Trump is the fascist goose who laid heaps of gold-plated, if foul, eggs. Propping him up may be distasteful, but they like the results.

John Durham’s top assistant resigns as Barr squeezes for some kind of report before election

There’s supposed to be a rule that the Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn’t make announcements concerning anyone involved in an election within 60 days of the election—a rule that James Comey absolutely disregarded with his last minute theatrics in the 2016 election. Considering the closeness of that election, there’s little doubt that Comey’s action, and the media coverage of it, was a deciding factor in handing Trump the White House. And William Barr has made it absolutely clear that he’s all in favor of smashing that rule again to keep Trump in place.

But Barr’s intention of releasing the report by his lieutenant, John Durham, got slightly harder on Friday. Because acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Nora Dannehy, who has acted as Durham’s top aide during his attempt to follow up on Trump’s claims about the “deep state coup” behind the Russia investigation, has resigned not just her position helping Durham, but from the entire Justice Department. And the reason is directly related to Barr’s attempts to rush the report out as an “October surprise.”

As the Hartford Courant reports, Dannehy was recruited to help Durham in his round-the-world quest to convince allies to join in the conspiracy theory and claim that the entire Russia investigation was set up long before Trump was elected. That includes tracking down claims that the CIA planted a college professor in London years earlier so George Papadopoulos could eventually be lured into trying to arrange a hook up between Trump and Putin. It also includes chasing down the same claims about a nonexistent server in Ukraine that were involved in Trump’s impeachment.

The investigation of the investigation has been underway for over a year and a half, and has so far managed to snag one charge against one person, with former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith pleading guilty to having edited an email. Compare this to the Mueller investigation, which netted 199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas, and five prison sentences … so far. 

Oddly enough, despite an investigation that’s now just a few months short of the entire length of the Mueller investigation, there appear to be no tweets from Trump or other Republicans complaining about the length, scope, or cost of the Durham investigation. Somehow, when Mueller was involved in his much more productive investigation, both Trump and his leading minions in the House found time to constantly complain about the budget of the investigations and to scoff at the “minor nature” of convictions. Funny. That’s not happening this time.

Dannehy has worked with Durham for decades. She was recruited back from private practice specifically to work on this investigation. But on Thursday evening she sent an email to the office in New Haven to announce that she was leaving, and the reason appears to be because she is worried about pressure from Barr to hand over a report before the election. Insiders say that Dannehy has been pondering leaving for weeks, but stayed this long out of her personal loyalty to Durham. 

According to the Courant, Dannehy said the investigation was going to last “six months to a year” when she agreed to return to the DOJ. But it’s taken much longer, and without producing any obvious signs of progress.

Still, even the departure of Durham’s top assistant is unlikely to prevent Barr from putting out something in the days immediately before the election. After all, as he did with the Mueller report, Barr can always give a completely false “summary” of the investigation and leave the truth to come out long after the spotlight has turned away.

Barr makes it clear—again—that he intends to drop the Durham report before the election

On July 28, Attorney General William Barr appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. During a half-day of questioning in which Barr was repeatedly evasive or purposely intended to misunderstand questions, there was one answer he provided which was absolutely clear. When Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell asked Barr to commit that the conspiracy theory-based report being prepared by John Durham would not be released before the November election, Barr’s answer could not have been briefer. “No,” he said.

Barr has made it absolutely clear that he does intend to deliver an October surprise. Ever since he stepped back onto the national stage by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation, Trump’s new Roy Cohn has been engaged in politicizing the DOJ and turning the department into an wing of Trump’s reelection campaign. One of his first acts was drafting U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin a round-the-world quest into claims Trump had made against Joe Biden, the pursuit of a DNC server that never existed, and undermining the actions of his own department in the Trump-Russia investigation. 

And now, as the campaign enters its final two months, Barr is being equally clear that he’s ready to ignore the Justice Department's “60-day rule” against taking overtly political steps in the final weeks before an election.

As Trump continues to show that he will say anything, Barr continues to make it equally clear that he will do anything to back up Trump’s statements and actions. As CNN notes, Barr was aggressively belligerent in a Wednesday night interview, making it clear that he is more than willing to break the 60-day rule, or any other rule, if that’s what it takes to keep Trump planted in the White House.

Barr wasn’t just unwilling to agree that Durham’s international quest for lies wouldn’t be packaged up for release before November 3, he was all in on Trump’s statements about how mail-in ballots lead to fraud. These were especially egregious statements coming from an official charged with keeping the elections safe and who knows that there is no evidence backing such claims.

CNN: "You've said you're worried a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots ... what are you basing that on?"

Barr: "Logic."

CNN: "But have you seen any evidence?" 

Barr: “No.”

But Barr doesn’t seem to need any evidence. Or rules.

Because in the CNN interview, he repeated that he doesn’t believe the 60-day rule applies to the Durham investigation. "I will handle these cases as appropriate,” said Barr, “and I do not think anything we do in the Durham investigation is going to be affecting the election."

Of course not. Just because Barr accompanied Durham to Rome where he tried to convince Italian authorities to join him in claims that professor Joseph Mifsud was secretly a CIA plant put in place months in advance to snare Trump adviser George Papadopoulos into trying to make contact with Russian officials, doesn’t mean there’s anything political about the investigation. Just because Barr was already secretly working with Durham at the time he redacted the Mueller report. Just because Barr and Durham dropped in on Australian intelligence and unsuccessfully tried to get them to agree that that Australian official Alexander Downer planted false evidence against Carter Page. Just because Barr has made it absolutely clear that the Durham investigation is “broad in scope and multifaceted” including trying find some basis behind the Ukraine fantasy behind Trump’s impeachment—a conspiracy aimed directly at generating false evidence against Joe Biden … none of that makes it political.

What’s clear from everything that’s been learned about Durham’s investigation is that it’s been spectacularly unsuccessful. Barr and Durham didn’t get Italy to lie for them about Mifsud. They couldn’t get Australia to lie for them about Downer. And the heads of both MI5 and MI6 in the U.K. refused to play along with their claims about Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine. The only actual charge to come out of the investigation so far is a single count of altering an email against decidedly third-tier figure and former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith. And the truth is that Clinesmith’s actions weren’t discovered by Durham at all—they were included in the report prepared by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz last December.

To date, it appears the Durham investigation has turned up exactly nothing that wasn’t previously known, and has completely struck out when it comes to trying to fulfill Trump’s conspiracy fantasies. However, none of that will stop William Barr from issuing a deliberately confusing last-minute memo designed to present things in a completely upside-down manner. After all, that’s his speciality.

Senate Intelligence Committee report confirms all charges about Trump’s connections to Russia

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was slipped out to the public with less fanfare than a new menu item at Captain D’s. And like the actual Mueller report, released weeks after Attorney General William Barr produced his whitewashed summary, Republicans are just hoping everyone will read their topline statements and ignore what the investigation really found.

Somehow, after Republicans have declared over and over that there was “no collusion,” they’ve been sitting on a report that shows that Donald Trump’s campaign manager was in constant contact with a Russian operative, that both WikiLeaks and Roger Stone knew they were part of a direct pipeline from Vladimir Putin, and that the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort was in fact a meeting with Russian spies designed to get information that could be used against Hillary Clinton. And that Ivanka Trump coordinated the daily drip of words from Moscow.

The Senate report, in fact, proves everything that had been said since before the election—Trump’s campaign directly collaborated with Russia, on multiple occasions and in various ways, to alter the outcome of a U.S. election. It also shows that multiple members of Trump’s campaign lied to investigators about these connections, and that Republican senators have been aware of these facts even as they have scorned the Mueller investigation and defended Trump and his campaign. So what are Republican senators doing about it now? Lying, of course.

The Senate report shows that Manafort was directly involved in passing along information to a Russian intelligence agent and accepting information from that agent. That’s collusion by the head of Trump’s campaign. The investigation could have stopped right there and moved on to providing information to the House for impeachment.

It didn’t stop there. It went on to explore how Ivanka Trump coordinated the use of stolen documents provided by Russia to make Trump’s attacks on Clinton more effective. How Stone helped Moscow coordinate WikiLeaks information to run cover for Trump. And how Manafort’s close coordination with Kremlin sources “represented a grave counterintelligence threat,” The report isn’t just damning, it’s damning to helling. It could not be more conclusive and more authoritative in showing that there was genuine coordination between the Trump campaign and Putin’s plans. Trump took everything Putin would give him, and begged for more.

Evidence in the report shows that Manafort’s chief contact, Konstantin Kilimnik, was connected not just with providing information to the campaign after the fact, but to the whole plot to break into DNC servers in the first place. The Trump campaign wasn’t the lucky beneficiary of a Russian plot that was already in effect. The whole thing—the break-in at the DNC, the distribution of emails through WikiLeaks, the false claims about Ukraine—was a joint Trump/Putin production from the start. They didn’t just collude, they were partners.

Why they were partners from the start is also underlined in the report, as the fifth volume contains information directly related to the leverage Putin had over Trump. That includes not just witnesses corroborating the existence of the “pee tape,” but a possible affair between Trump and a former Miss Moscow as well as a visit to a Moscow strip club. All of this, along with Manafort’s existing connections to Moscow, meant that Trump and other members of the campaign “presented attractive targets for foreign influence, creating notable counterintelligence vulnerabilities,” according to the report.

Almost as an aside, the report shows that Donald Trump and his then-personal attorney Michael Cohen negotiated repeatedly to cover up evidence in exchange for a pardon—and then everyone involved lied about it to Robert Mueller. Though that part was already known.

So what are Republican senators going to do about a report—their own report—that lays bare Putin’s tawdry leverage over Trump, the openness of Trump’s campaign to foreign influence, and the lies that campaigns staffers told to investigators every step of the way? As Lawfare points out, Republicans have a very simple solution: lying. Over and over, Republican senators have issued statements repeating the idea that the report shows “no collusion,” in direct contradiction of the actual contents.

Republicans in the Senate deserve credit for allowing the investigation to run its course rather than doing a Devin Nunes and popping out a Trump-praising nonsense piece while claiming that everything is good. But they deserve zero credit for running away from their own report or for making claims that the report doesn’t show what it clearly shows.

And while Republicans are scanning Mike Pompeo’s stack of documents looking for possible avenues of attack against Joe Biden, Biden could do a lot worse than simply making advertisements out of segments of the report created by the Republican-led Senate.

Republicans are planning a mass attack against Biden using information from pro-Russian agents

In 2016, Donald Trump and his campaign team made more than 100 contacts with Russian agents in what turned out to be a successful effort to plunder information, disseminate propaganda, and ultimately steal an American election. Other Republican officials were certainly involved to some degree—particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did everything he could to block efforts to make the public aware of Russian interference and damaged election security.

In 2020, Republicans in both House and Senate—having given Trump a free pass to invite foreign interference and approving the whitewashing of Trump’s crimes by Attorney General William Barr—are all on board. That includes Barr, who has all but promised to provide America with a QAnon-sanctioned October surprise. It includes Republican lawmakers like Rep. Devin Nunes, who are sitting on a packet of documents prepared by a pro-Russian official from Ukraine. It includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been using the State Department to pile up a stack of unsubstantiated attacks on Joe Biden. Barr, Nunes, and Pompeo are not just sitting on this information: they’re deliberately hiding it, looking for the moment to strike when no one has a chance to see what a baseless conspiracy they’re really pushing.

Devin Nunes has always represented the ragged edge of support for Donald Trump. From the moment he jumped from an Uber and sneaked into the White House in an attempt to derail the Russia investigation, to his stint in front of the House Ethics Committee, Nunes made it clear that his loyalty to Trump exceeded any other responsibility. And when it came to questions about when Nunes would be truthful with his House colleagues, he could not have been more clear: “Never.”

So it should come as no surprise that as the 2020 election approaches, Devin Nunes has been working directly with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who previously passed along information through Rudy Giuliani. That lawmaker has been feeding information to Republicans in both the House and Senate. It comes in the form of a “packet” of supposed evidence that backs up Trump and Giuliani’s long-debunked claims about Joe Biden’s relationship to the Ukrainian government.

As CNN reports, Democrats have been aware that Republicans in the House and Senate—including Nunes—were sent a packet of information from pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach in January, in the midst of Donald Trump’s impeachment. But Republicans have refused to discuss what’s in the packet, or even admit that they have it. In closed-door Intelligence Committee hearings, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York made multiple attempts to get Nunes to answer a simple question. "Is the ranking member prepared to even respond to the question?,” asked Maloney. ”How about it, Mr. Nunes? Did you receive a package from Andrii Derkach or not? And would you share with the committee or not?” Nunes did not respond. “Well,” said Maloney. “I guess this is a case where silence speaks volumes."

As Politico reported, that silence extends to the FBI. After Democratic staff members became aware of the existence of the document packet, they requested information on the contents from the FBI. Not only has there been no information provided, there hasn’t even been a response.

During his Tuesday hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr was just as silent in refusing to share any information collected in the investigation he’s conducted with the assistance of U. S. Attorney John “Bull” Durham. That investigation also includes sharing Ukraine with Guiliani, as well as attempts to arm-twist officials in London, Rome, and Australia into giving Barr additional leverage that can be used to support Trump.

On Friday, The Hill reported that Rep. Eliot Engel has issued a subpoena to another Republican known to have been stacking up information provided by Giuliani and his associates: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Secretary Pompeo has turned the State Department into an arm of the Trump campaign and he’s not even trying to disguise it,” said Engel. Pompeo has shared information connected to Joe Biden with Senate Republicans, while hiding it from Democrats. However, it’s hard to call the information Pompeo has shared exclusively with Republicans a “packet” … because it’s over 16,000 pages long.

In the next 97 days, the attack on Joe Biden is going to come from William Barr, from Mike Pompeo, from Senate Republicans, and from Republican representatives like Nunes, all of them using information that has not been vetted, or even seen, by anyone outside the GOP. They’re not planning an October surprise: They’re planning a bullshit assault from every direction.

And, just like in 2016, they’re expected to get every single column of The New York Times and every single moment of network news airtime to repeat their claims, unchallenged, in the days right before the election.

Barr makes it clear that he intends to deliver an October surprise … that will surprise no one

In his Tuesday hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr made plenty of statements that justifiably raised eyebrows—among them his refusal to acknowledge a direct threat against a federal judge, his lack of concern for Donald Trump’s pardoning people directly involved in his campaign, and his smug willingness to overlook any evidence, no matter how obvious, against Trump or anyone close to Trump. Barr’s entire appearance was simply dripping with disdain for the entire legal process, Congress, and plain old decency.

So it’s not surprising that among the statements made by Barr, one threat got little attention. Not only did Barr make it clear that he intends to lob an “October surprise” into the election works, he added in a signal that he’s going full QAnon by adding not-at-all-disguised reference to Pizzagate in the mix. Sometime in the final weeks of the campaign, Barr fully intends to fulfill every Republican fantasy with a “report” on how Democrats tried to … do something. 

From literally the week he arrived back in Washington, D.C., Barr has been following through on Donald Trump’s wishes to pursue conspiracy theories related to the Russia investigation. Not only did Barr begin his second session as attorney general (AG) by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation and hiding evidence collected by the Department of Justice, he drafted U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin an international quest to find anything that could back up Pizzagate-level claims of persecution.

The Where in the World is Hillary’s “Missing Server” world tour has seen Barr and Durham in Australia, trying to get that government to admit that Australian official Andrew Downer was actually an instrument of U.S. intelligence planting false justification to open an investigation. They’ve visited Rome and London in an attempt to get officials there to agree that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was another CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos into spilling the beans on Trump. And they’ve met with an array of Rudy Giuliani approved pro-Russian Ukrainians, looking for that elusive proof that Joe Biden something something Hunter. Also, they’ve seriously spent time pursuing a Democratic National Convention (DNC) email server and Ukrainian hackers, neither of which ever existed. The list of actions that Barr has taken to support Trump’s ludicrous conspiracy theories is lengthy, and still growing. 

From all of this, Barr is preparing a report that will undoubtedly confirm that Trump was “right.” Barr is almost certain to paint already identified infractions by FBI agents and decisions made by Justice Department officials as parts of a deep state conspiracy meant to set up Trump before he was elected—an attempted “coup” only thwarted by Trump’s vigilant eye and firm hand on the rudder.

This isn’t the first time the Barr-Durham report has been expected. During the impeachment hearings there was a widespread belief that Barr was going to bomb the proceedings with a report that included claims against James Comey, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and even President Barack Obama. The report didn’t come when expected … but then, thanks to the Republicans in the Senate who refused to hear a single witness, it wasn’t really needed.

How far down into QAnon white rabbit land is Barr willing to go? As The Washington Post reports, when Republican Rep. Tom McClintock took the opportunity during the hearing to join Barr in moaning about the failings of the Russia investigation, he asked Barr if Durham’s report was going to beat the election deadline. “Are you going to be able to right this wrong before it becomes a precedent for future election interference by corrupt officials in our justice and intelligence agencies?” asked McClintock.

After complaining that the investigation had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barr went on to say: “Justice is not something you order up on a schedule like you’re ordering a pizza.” That was far from an accidental statement. QAnon conspirators frequently sift through public statements to find some obscure reference that can be construed as having something to do with their impossibly arcane beliefs. Barr didn’t make it that hard. Considering that the entire QAnon conspiracy theory began with claims about Democratic officials hiding an “international pedophile ring” behind pizza orders, Barr was blowing a QAnon bullhorn, underlining his intention of delivering the goods.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell took the oppositite approach, asking Barr if he would “commit to not releasing any report by Mr. Durham before the November election.” Barr’s answer in this case was much more succinct: “No.”

Barr is making it clear that sometime in the remaining 98 days before the election, he intends to drop a sheaf of documents that builds every molehill of wild speculation into a mountain of even wilder accusations. At this point, more pretense around Ukraine or servers or commas in the warrant for Carter Page may seem picayune, especially as the tide of coronavirus deaths rolls on toward 200,000. On the other hand, Barr could even include manufactured indictments against Clinton, or Obama, or even Biden. That would get attention. After all, Barr has made it absolutely clear that there are no lines

And both Barr and Trump are counting on the media to be every bit as cooperative in trumpeting whatever is in this report as they were in making Clinton’s emails the number one story in 2016.

Trump ordered officials to find some reason to deny Vindman’s promotion—they found nothing

The early retirement of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman isn’t the largest story in a nation racked by a deadly pandemic, a fragmented economy, and an ongoing fight to restructure public safety in the face of racial violence by police. No one died in this story. No one was locked in a detention center. No one was pulled before a kangaroo court.

But as more details emerge on Vindman’s final months in the U. S. military, his story does seem to encapsulate so many themes of the last three years. In part that’s because Vindman’s story is the American story—an immigrant who demonstrated that, in America, he could be accepted right in the heart of the government for his expertise. In part that’s because Vindman so clearly placed his bet on honesty and patriotism, trusting in the story of America that America tells itself. And in part it’s because Vindman’s story is the story of Donald Trump’s America, where nothing is more important than vengeance.

Vindman wasn’t kicked out of the military and he wasn’t facing charges—it was just clear that he was facing a future of … no future. The promotion he was due to receive this summer was not going to happen. Worse still, it was made clear to him that his lifetime of experience in working on issues related to Ukraine, Russia, and Eastern Europe was now worthless, because he was not going to be allowed to work in this area. Instead, what Vindman faced was a future of make-work positions, deliberately structured to make it clear both to him, and everyone else, that he was just marking time without the potential for further achievements.

That’s not a unique situation. It’s exactly the kind of thing that happens to many in the military when they’ve done something wrong. Captains who lose a ship, commanders who make a huge tactical mistake, anyone suspected of a crime that can never be quite nailed down … they can end up with a few key words in their files, a “black spot” that’s obvious every time they’re up for promotion or assignment. Facing a lifetime of zero potential and unfulfilling assignments, resignation is the expected response. Those who don’t resign right away, soon realize just how cold it can be within the military when the chain of command turns its back.

The thing is that Vindman got such a black spot without doing anything wrong. As The New Yorker reports, Vindman’s colleagues and supervisors had nothing but praise. 

When he went in front of the House to testify in Trump’s impeachment, Vindman began with an opening statement for the ages, one that underscored both his commitment to the nation, and his belief in the character of America. “Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision, forty years ago, to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America, in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry—I will be fine for telling the truth.”

In these faded times, it might have almost seemed as if Vindman was being ironic. However, his former boss Fiona Hill makes it clear that the moving statement was exactly as honest as it seemed. “Alex had no clue,” said Hill. “He’s a distinguished soldier and was not involved in politics. He was prepared to deal with the enemy outside, but not when the enemy was within. He was pretty shocked as it played out.”

After being escorted out of the White House, Vindman was slated to be promoted to full colonel, go to the National War College for a season, then return to a foreign posting. None of that happened. Because the White House made it clear that Trump opposed Vindman’s promotion. 

Instead, White House officials informed Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy that they should “dig for misconduct” and find something in Vindman’s record that would justify blocking his promotion. Esper and McCarthy dug. They didn’t find anything.

It didn’t matter. Vindman was made aware that he would not be promoted, and “never be deployable overseas again.” He took the route that many have taken in the past and left under his own power.

It’s a personal tragedy for a man who should have had another decade or more of contributing to the future of the nation he loved. It’s a national tragedy in that it clearly shows how Trump is willing to use his power to quash the lives of honorable people who have the temerity to believe that America is what America claims to be.