Roaming Charges: the Gang That Couldn’t Tweet Straight

Photo by Office of the Director of National Intelligence | Public Domain

Photo by Office of the Director of National Intelligence | Public Domain


James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence under Obama, is one of the most peculiar figures of our time. Until Jeff Sessions, Clapper was infamous for having committed one of the most flagrant acts of perjury before Congress, when he flatly denied to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden that the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans.  The exchange is worth revisiting.

Wyden: “I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer, because I know Sen. Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director (Keith Alexander) was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘The story that we have millions, or hundreds of millions, of dossiers on people is completely false.’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozens years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So, what I wanted to see if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper: “No, sir.”

Wyden: “It does not?”

Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”

Clapper’s claim collapsed a few weeks later, when Edward Snowden blew the lid off the NSA’s vast domestic surveillance operation. Yet to Clapper’s credit, he is a more transparent liar than Jeff Sessions. A review of the tape shows that Clapper looked like he was lying as he lied. Sessions, who proffered his lie about never parlaying with any Russian officials before even being asked, is a more habituated and practiced liar, who honed the craft of prevarication in the courtroom prosecuting poor blacks for crimes they didn’t commit.

Last weekend, Clapper was hauled back in front of the cameras to pass judgment on Trump’s crepuscular Twitter rant accusing that “bad/sick” man Obama of “wiretapping” him during the closing days of the 2016 campaign. In an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, Clapper said: “I can’t speak officially anymore, but I will say that for the part of the national security apparatus I saw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect or his campaign.”

At the very moment Clapper condemned Trump for bogus Tweeting, he dashed the hopes of the Democratic schismatics by throwing cold water on the grand conspiracy of our day: that the Trump campaign conspired with Putin’s Russia to rig the 2016 elections. “I didn’t see any evidence of collusion,” Clapper said. In other words, there’s no there there. Take both of these statements for what they are worth, after all they were made by Jim Clapper, professional liar.

But maybe there was a little “there” somewhere in the anterooms of Trump Tower, if not in the mysterious server being pinged by a Russian bank perhaps it is to be found in the strange peregrinations of Jared Kushner, who seems to take a cut out of every Trump deal, political or otherwise. When it comes to tracking the roots of a political scandal, Deep Throat’s old adage remains the guidestar: follow the money.

Frankly, I take it as an article of faith that the Russians did try to meddle in our elections, as we do more menacingly in theirs. These hijinks have been standard tradecraft for decades. I think it’s also safe to assume that the Russians wanted to see Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, who, as far as I could tell, spent much of her campaign trying to provoke a nuclear confrontation with Moscow over Syria and Ukraine. The problem was how to pull it off?

The central allegation, that Russian hackers pilfered the email databases of the DNC and Clinton campaign boss John Podesta and turned those juicy troves over to Wikileaks, remains unproven. Even Jim Clapper was a skeptic, tending to believe, as I do, that the emails were leaked rather than hacked. Then we are meant to believe that thebernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550-e1477943826411 Russians used their influence over 200 western alternative media outlets (including this one, dear readers) to have stories on these leaks saturate the political news on the web to the point that undecided voters flipped to Trump. It’s a ludicrous theory, riven with holes, and even if true almost certainly didn’t play any decisive role in swaying the election, for the obvious reason that 80 percent of Americans simply don’t read anything anymore, never mind digging their way through insipid email-chains from the likes of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, John Podesta and Neera Tanden.

On the subject of collusion the question is: what did the Russians want, how were they going to get it from Trump and who were they going to deal with? Even a cursory look at the characters involved in meetings with the Russians–Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn,  JD Gordon, Carter Page–reveals that these are hardly reliable figures. There’s not a potential Kim Philby in the bunch. Call them the gang that couldn’t tweet straight. It’s hard to imagine that seasoned operators like Sergey Kislyak would trust any deal hatched with these buffoons.

After months of nonstop probing and prognosticating, the only real gift to Russia that anyone’s detected is an alteration in the Republican platform, where the language on was changed to oppose US weapons shipments to Ukraine to fight rebel and Russian forces. This change brought the Republicans, or at least the parchment of their platform, into harmony with one of Obama’s saner policies. If this is quid pro quo, then let’s have more of it!

The Democrats are at risk of making the rest of their already frail political agenda, such as it is, collateral damage in their pursuit of a collective fantasy, a mad quest to find ghostly Russian agents inside the House of Trump. No amateur spy hunter has been more intrepid than the Walter Winchell of MSDNC, Rachel Maddow, who has rebranded her nightly show “The Russian Connection.” For two months now, Maddow (annual salary: $7 million) has been spinning nightly sagas of Russian espionage that twist and turn through the dark labyrinths of Washington and end where they began: nowhere. Predictably, Maddow’s audience is swelling as numbed Democrats, still dazed by Hillary’s defeat, tune in hoping for some kind of explosive revelation that will explain the inexplicable from these paranoid potboilers, which often cast the CIA in the most unlikely role of victim.

I fear our long national hangover is just commencing. The deeper the Democrats descend into the Russian rabbit hole, the farther they remove themselves from the working-class people whose defection cost them the election and the longer the odds grow that they will ever revitalize their party as a real oppositional force to the reactionary freight train bearing down upon them.

Trump has probably had the worst start to a presidency since William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia only 32 days after taking the oath. But by all measures the Democrats have fared even worse than the president, and rightfully so. Since Trump’s win, and despite relentless attempts to invalidate his victory, there has been a steady attrition of support for the Democratic Party. The Democrats are now less liked (35%) and more hated (50%) than Trump (44%/47%) and by a fairly wide margin, according to a recent Suffolk poll.

This is a party in need of embalming fluid.

Roaming Charges

+ Trump reminds me more and more of Hamlet’s Ghost, prowling the hallways of the East Wing or the parapets of Mar-a-Lago in the pre-dawn hours bellowing about the foul poisoning of his administration by someone sleeping in one of his own over-priced beds.

If Trump is so unnerved at the prospect of being wire-tapped, he should fire off one of his executive orders banning wiretaps. Otherwise, welcome to the club, Donald.

Of course, thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that with a flip of the switch the CIA could have listened to every Trump grunt and gripe as he watched CNN on his Samsung Smart TV, likely the most intelligent object in the room.

+ In Buffalo, members of the Carpenters Union are apparently snitching out undocumented workers to ICE. Not too surprising for this notoriously reactionary outfit, whose boss, Douglas McCarron, lead the Sonderkommando unit of Big Labor to the White House for a photo-op with Trump.

+ The ACLU does more in an hour to effectively resist Trump than the Democrats have done in two months.

+ Jeff Sessions is moving swiftly to reignite the war on drugs. No word yet on whether Sessions is planning to reinstitute one of his old ideas that some marijuana crimes should carry the death penalty.

+ And you wonder why the FOX News crowd didn’t turn on Trump after the revelations of his serial sexual assaults…

+ For two-thirds of the nation, spring arrived three-weeks early, a consequence of a rapidly warming planet. Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt announced his belief that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas and that human activity isn’t a primary driver of climate change.

+ Lynne Stewart died this week after a long illness. She was a real legal hero, who who paid a terrible price for fearless defending the Constitution when the Constitution had precious few defenders

+ Trump has long claimed that he graduated near the top of his class at the Wharton School of Business. Yet an investigation by the Daily Pennsylvanian, the terrific student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, reveals Trump’s less than stellar academic career there.  “Given that there are 366 listed 1968 Wharton graduates on QuakerNet, Penn’s alumni database, the Dean’s List of 56 students represents approximately the top 15 percent of the class. The omission of Trump’s name suggests that his academic record at Penn was not as outstanding as he has claimed.” Fellow students recall that Trump was a brown-nosing suck-up as a student, sitting in the front row of classes, asking inane questions, contributed little to study groups and fled to New York every weekend to consummate real estate deals.

+ While HRC continues to search for her soul, her poll numbers continue to plunge. For the first time, Trump’s favorability ratings are higher than hers. Sometimes people see you as exactly who you really are. Trump’s numbers haven’t changed much. His followers are giving new meaning to “true believers.”


+ In a career of writing two witless columns a week for decades, this may be Thomas Friedman’s most witless yet. Check out this turgid graph on Gen. John Kelly: “Then why doesn’t the secretary of homeland security know them and why doesn’t the president share them? And, by the way, why are you on television with peanut butter on your chin, saying the President has reasons but not saying what they are? That’s how a morally bankrupt president soils everyone around him, even such a good man.” This “good man” just announced his plan to separate mothers from their children at US borders. Hang it up, Friedman.

+ Ryan Lance, the CEO of oil conglomerate ConocoPhillips, is publicly urging Trump not to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement. Lance knows that the Climate Agreement would likely get much tougher if the US–which doesn’t abide by it anyway–left….

+ How did the New York Times celebrate International Women’s Day? By running a column suggesting that the movement was becoming anti-semitic.

+ Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz said that lower income Americans were going to have to choose “between buying an i-Phone or buying health insurance.” Someone accosts you on the street. Sticks a knife in your gut and says, “Your i-Phone or your life.” Is it any different than the threat Chaffetz made?

+ In the revised version of Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban, the administration cites a 2010 incident in Portland, Oregon as justification for banning child refugees from Somalia. The case involved Mohamed Mohamud, a Somali refugee who came to Oregon as a child and later became a US citizen. Mohamud was convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 in a car-bomb plot. The Portland “car bomb” plot was entirely the invention of the FBI. Like so many other “terror cases,” it was a government plot in search of a patsy.

+ Breaking News! The New York Times finally located the Deep State….in Pakistan!

+ Hillary Clinton announced this week that she has “done my share of soul-searching” since the election. But she still hasn’t found what she was looking for….

+ TSA is now offering air travelers a new choice: x-ray machines or full-body molestation.

+ Fukushima started melting down six years ago this week. It still hasn’t stopped. Researchers from the University of Texas released a report revealing that radioactive aerosols from the crippled reactors were measured in Washington state at 100,000 times their normal levels.

+ Aside the from the appointment of Keith Ellison in the newly-created and still nebulous position of “deputy chair” of the DNC, the Democratic Party elected precisely ZERO other members of the Sanders movement into its leadership. And why do the Sandernistas remain in this party?

+ In Israel, the hot-selling kids costume for Purim this year is that of Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier recently convicted of manslaughter for shooting defenseless Palestinians. Get them started early!

+ Liberals defending the possible wiretapping of Trump’s campaign argue that FISA warrants must meet a “probable cause” standard. That’s laughable. FISA warrant are basically rubber stamp warrants. In the last 33 years, 99.97 percent of FISA warrants have been approved.

+ Jeff Sessions is one of the most bigoted politicians of our time, but for years he’s been treated like one of the boys by his Democratic colleagues in the Senate. Why? One anonymous Democrat explained to the New York Times: “He was liked in the Senate. He has these horrible views, but he’s sort of not vicious about them.”

+ Lying under oath used to be a capital offense for politicians, now it’s a prerequisite for office. See Scott Pruitt on his private email server.

+ Sen. Joe Manchin, the CarbonCrat from W. Virginia, was the lone “Democrat” to vote to confirm Sessions as AG. Last Friday, Manchin called for Sessions to resign over lying about talking with the Russian Ambassador. Apparently, Sessions’ racist policies on police shootings, the drug war, immigration and voting rights didn’t trouble Manchin in the least….

+ As Trump and Pruitt prepare to put the US’s meager climate programs on the chopping block, one of the worst droughts in African history explodes into continent wide famines….


+ On February 11th, parts of western Oklahoma topped 100 degrees, while the rest of the state sweltered under temperatures in the 90s. If that doesn’t wake you up, perhaps a frackquake will.

+ Who needs the Wise Use Mvt, when the National Wildlife Federation, which supported the nomination of Ryan Zinke for Secretary of the Interior, will do their work for them?

+ Climate change warrior Leonard DiCaprio reportedly flew his “eyebrow” artist 7,500 from Australia to Los Angeles in order to trim his eyebrows for the Academy Awards. Why’s everyone so uptight about this? I remember back in the day when Edward Abbey caught a load of shit from purest Earth First! types for having his ear-hair trimmer drive down to Oracle all the way from Tucson just to manicure his wild thatch for the upcoming Round River Rendezvous …

+ How does a Democrat define RINO? Resistance In Name Only. By a vote of 72 to 27, the Senate confirmed Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary.

+ Liberals: George W. Bush heroic for defending press!
Liberals: Ralph Nader Satan for helping elect George W. Bush in 2000.

+ They fuck you up, mum and dad
They fill you with their every flaw–
Kick you when you’re down and sad
Especially when Dad is Evelyn Waugh
(Apologies to Philip Larkin)

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week….

Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts
Hanni El Khatib: Savage Times
Knee-Body: Anti-Hero
Nels Cline Singers: Macroscope
Sam Barsh: I Forgot What You Taught Me

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week….

Joshua Reeves: Citizen Spies: the Long Rise of America’s Surveillance Society
Rick Pearlstein: The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
Elliott Chaze: Black Wings Has My Angel

Blacks in Vietnam

James Baldwin: “I told him that Americans had no business at all in Vietnam; and that black people certainly had no business there, aiding the slave master to enslave yet more millions of dark people, and also identifying themselves with the white American crimes: we, the blacks, are going to need our own allies, for the Americans, odd as it may sound at the moment, will presently have none. It wasn’t hard, I said, to understand why a black boy, standing, futureless, on the corner, would decide to join the Army, nor was it hard to decipher the slave master’s reasons for hoping that he wouldn’t live to come home with a gun; but it wasn’t necessary, after all, to defend it: to defend, that is, one’s murder and one’s murderers.”


Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3