Patterico's Pontifications

12/26/2020

A Note About Facts and the Rules Here

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:14 pm



This is not a post about the fate of one commenter on this site. I wouldn’t want to waste a post on that. It’s a rumination on Web discourse, and the importance of facts — and the problem that solid facts can come from sources you may not like, and misinformation can come from people you do like. (Helpful tip: if you find the people you like constantly feeding you misinformation, or if you find that their reaction to being called out on misinformation is to double down, obfuscate, or otherwise obscure the point, you might try finding different people to like.)

So: I wrote a post the other day that noted that there were some Trumpy cretins on the Twitters who were spreading disinformation about the Manafort investigation and convictions. Since I know Manafort to be a straight criminal, I thought I would take a moment to clear up some of that misinformation here. I have read not one, but several books that touch on the Special Counsel investigations. Since not everyone here has (and who can blame you?), I figured part of the value that you get from coming to a site like this is to get information you’re not necessarily going to see elsewhere, which helps you form opinions based on accurate facts.

In my post I said the following:

I have seen two defenses raised by Trumpy liars on Twitter. Both are false.

One is that Manafort never would have been investigated but for his involvement with Donald Trump. We are told that all investigations into Manafort had been closed, and were reopened by the Special Counsel. This is false. Whoever is saying it is either ignorant or is lying to you. I know this because I read the book by Manafort’s chief prosecutor, Andrew Weissman: Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation (affiliate link). I spent my morning reading time today re-reading several relevant passages from the book, to confirm my memory that four separate investigations were already ongoing and had not been closed when the Special Counsel entered the picture. The investigations included FARA, money laundering, bank fraud, and tax fraud issues. A new prosecutor had recently been appointed on one of those investigations.

While it is true that those investigations were being handled incompetently in many cases and at an indefensibly slow pace, they were ongoing. Manafort’s involvement with Trump did not “reopen” those investigations. It just got a competent and speedy prosecutor in charge of them.

That was part of my effort to set the record straight, since I knew that people with a poor track record of truth-telling were out there trying to convince people that Obama had shut down all the Manafort investigations and that Mueller had “reopened” them. It’s not true, and I wanted people to know it’s not true.

Onto that thread toddled a commenter who has been here a while, mostly repeating nonsense from the batshit insane lawyer Sidney Powell on behalf of Michael “hey how about a round of martial law to steal the election” Flynn. This particular time, this commenter unceremoniously squatted down in my comments section and pinched this off:

Paul Manafort was probably the only guy who deserves convictions for his crimes.

However, DOJ had closed the Manafort investigation during the Obama Administration.

It was resurrected by the SCO so they could use it for purposes of quickly gathering evidence with GJ subpoenas. There was no open GJ case in DOJ prior to the SCO being created…there’s documented evidence of that.

(This is completely false, as you should know by now — and if you don’t, you’re about to find out in detail.)

The commenter went on to say that in his opinion it was “absolutely disgraceful that anyone would take Weismann’s word on this” and argued that the FBI would have warned Trump about the investigations (who presumably would have warned Manafort, who presumably would have disposed of much of the treasure trove of evidence that hung him, so it’s pretty easy to see why the FBI would not warn Trump, and anyway Manafort’s dirty ties with Yanukovych were well known and a matter of public record). The commenter concluded by stating that the pardon did not bother him much because there are other examples of corrupt pardons in U.S. history — a common Trumper defense: the firehose of corruption displayed by Trump can be rationalized by reference to occasional trickles of past corruption by others.

It’s not my point here to focus on the commenter’s lame defense of the pardon, but to take issue with his decision to come into my comments section and drop a steaming pile of falsehood referenced in the immediately preceding block quote. We are told there is “documented evidence” that DoJ had “closed the Manafort investigation during the Obama administration” and that it was “resurrected” by Mueller. That is precisely the misinformation I had been at pains to correct in my post. And here comes this guy to tell us all that Patterico is not only wrong, but that it is “documented” that Patterico is wrong, and that it is “disgraceful” that Patterico is trusting the source he cited.

Before I address how utterly offensive that is, let me elaborate a little bit on the proof that what I said in the post is true. I’ll start by elaborating on what is in Weissman’s book, and move on to corroboration from other sources.

Weissman does not simply mention in passing that he took over active investigations. He describes in great detail his meetings with various teams that had been investigating Manafort for years, from the lawyers who oversee FARA registration to a team investigating money laundering by Manafort. All in all, Weissman says, four investigations that were ongoing at the time the Special Counsel entered the picture. Weissman says all of the prosecutors and investigators were gracious and helpful. But he does describe some appalling shortcomings in the investigations, and I’ll go through some of those here, to describe the level of detail that Weissman sets forth. Keep in mind that, according to our commenter who claims to know better, Weissman has to be lying about taking over active investigations, so all of the interchanges I am about to describe are supposedly “made up” and never really happened.

Weissman describes meeting with the team investigating Manafort’s money laundering, and how the higher-ranking folks took seats at the table while lower-level people who had a greater handle on the facts sat in chairs against the wall. Since the gravamen of the money laundering investigation centered on evidence that Manafort was hiding tens of millions of dollars in offshore accounts that he would subsequently launder through LLCs, Weissman asked what the status of the “MLATs” to the offshore banks were. He explains that MLATs are Multi-Lateral Assistance Treaties that allow U.S. law enforcement to seek bank records from foreign banks and other entities. Weissman was told that no MLATs had been issued but that the matter was on their “to do” list — an answer that showed Weissman that the people involved were not terribly focused or motivated, since MLATs are notoriously slow processes that take months. Weissman decided that it was clear he would have to take over the investigation. He resolved to issue the MLAT requests immediately, but in the meantime would issue subpoenas to domestic banks to jump-start the process of acquiring information about Manafort’s finances.

Weissman also asked prosecutors looking into possible tax fraud what Manafort’s tax returns showed. Here again, he was shocked to learn that the prosecutors had not obtained Manafort’s tax returns — usually a fairly routine request to a branch of the IRS (if memory serves) that makes such determinations. Weissman says that it was possible that the IRS was throwing up artificial roadblocks to an investigation of one of the president’s buddies, since the request to the IRS had apparently been made during the Trump administration, but he also believed that it was possible that this team had simply screwed up the paperwork and made an insufficient showing. He knew there was a workaround: subpoena Manafort’s tax documents from his preparers, and use any information thus obtained as part of a revised request to the IRS.

Weissman also describes meeting with the people who had been investigating Manafort’s failure to register as a foreign lobbyist. Manafort had been stonewalling them, falsely claiming he no longer had documents that related to his activities on behalf of Ukraine. Weissman asked what they had subpoenaed, and they responded that criminal subpoenas were not authorized to investigate FARA — something Weissman knew not to be true. He took over that active (but poorly run) investigation as well.

This is a tremendous amount of detail set forth by someone supposedly making up the whole story. Further, imagine how many people could prove Weissman a liar if he were making all of this up. Weissman ended up bringing into the Special Counsel’s office several of the forensic accountants and other investigators who had worked on the matter before Mueller took it over. Weissman names some of them and has praise for their work. If Weissman were making up these stories out of whole cloth, there are probably dozens of people who could come forward and show him to be a liar.

The story Weissman tells is generally one of incompetence and sloth on the part of the people investigating Manafort. But our commenter’s allegation that “DOJ had closed the Manafort investigation during the Obama Administration” and that it had been “resurrected by the SCO” (Special Counsel’s Office) is flatly false. All of these investigations had been going on for years and were still ongoing when Weissman took them over.

If you don’t like Weissman, you might not be inclined to take his word on the more granular details of precisely what took place at these meetings and how every subtlety played out.

But to believe that he simply made up the fact that the investigations were ongoing and that the Special Counsel took them over is tinfoil hat stuff.

By the way, you don’t have to take Weissman’s word for it, either. Public reports corroborate the truth: that Mueller took over already active investigations into Manafort. For example, on June 13, 2017, Newsweek reported:

The special counsel investigating U.S. President Donald Trump team’s alleged ties to Russia has taken over a separate criminal probe into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

. . . .

The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Manafort reportedly pre-dates the July launch of the FBI counterintelligence investigation into alleged collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia.

The “July launch” refers to July 2016, as the Newsweek story was published in June 2017. The counterintelligence investigation into Manafort was first reported by the New York Times in January 2017, months before Mueller was appointed Special Counsel on May 17, 2017.

It’s simply beyond rational dispute that the Special Counsel took over existing investigations, which had been ongoing for years.

I demanded that our commenter either back up the claims he had made (claims he had said were backed by “documented evidence”) or retract it. In response, he delivered a word salad that remains in moderation because it does not comply with my demand. The commenter notes that Manafort was investigation during the Obama years (correct) and that “for whatever reasons no charges were filed until the SCO took over” (also correct) and then says:

I know FBI investigations don’t really get “closed” in the sense that it’s chucked into the ether never to be seen again. It’s really about what resources are used and the level of actives stemming from such investigations.

Actually, this commenter had said the Manafort investigations had indeed been “closed.” And yes, investigations are often “closed” in precisely the manner he denies. So is this a retraction? Not clear enough for me. And then he goes on to say: “I distinctly remember from either CNN or FoxNews (my two go-to news sites) that Manafort wasn’t charged during the Obama administration due to that, to paraphrase, it wasn’t worth it.” Oh! And here I was saying he had no evidence to back up his statement, when in fact we know that God knows who, with God knows what expertise or level of knowledge, asserted on one of two networks that it “wasn’t worth it” to charge Manafort. I mean, our commenter remembers this distinctly — so distinctly that he places the word “distinctly” in bold and italics!! His memory is so distinct in fact that he has narrowed down the place he saw it to one of two networks — although the distinctness does not extend to the identity of the person who made this claim.

Then he says:

Obviously, Manafort deserved to be prosecuted, but for whatever reason (either prosecuturial discretion or incompetence or whatever) he wasn’t charged then.

I spent nearly two days and I couldn’t find it, so I’ll own up to that. But I’d bet good money that it’d exist because it formulated my opinion right then and there.

Then the commenter goes on to do some ad hominems on Weissman.

Now. Does “I’ll own up to” the fact that I can’t find a link to something that doesn’t even contradict what Patterico said, or support what I previously said count as a retraction? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, the notion that Manafort deserved to be prosecuted, but wasn’t because of prosecutorial incompetence, is completely consistent with the story I have told. And that does not support the claim that the commenter made, which was, just to remind you:

DOJ had closed the Manafort investigation during the Obama Administration.

It was resurrected by the SCO so they could use it for purposes of quickly gathering evidence with GJ subpoenas. There was no open GJ case in DOJ prior to the SCO being created…there’s documented evidence of that.

That claim is false. It directly contradicts what I said in the post to which that comment was appended.

I am not going to allow this commenter to comment again until he owns up to the fact that what he said is false. I want him to admit that he had not a single shred of evidence to back it up. I want him to retract it without any reservation or caveat whatsoever.

Frankly, I would appreciate it if he also shared the source of his false information, and revealed that he has now learned that the source he relied upon was wrong, and that in the future he should be more careful about relying on that source of information.

And if that commenter does not give me that retraction, he has left his last comment on my site.

Because here’s the thing, folks. This commenter has shown that he is willing to throw out false assertions of fact — and when called on it, he has tried to obfuscate. And again: I would not write a long post about my decision to moderate and perhaps ban (depending on whether I get my unreserved retraction) a single person — but there is a larger lesson here.

Web discourse is possible only when people can agree on a common set of facts — or, if they cannot agree on a set of facts, they must be able to discuss using logic, reason, and evidence why they disagree about what the underlying facts are. For someone to come into the comment sections of one of my posts and take a giant dump on it by flatly asserting that I am wrong and that it is “disgraceful” for me to trust the word of someone they don’t like — while giving zero support for their own contrary factual assertions and obfuscating when they are called on it — that is unacceptable. You don’t have to like everything about Andrew Weissman — I am quite sure I don’t like his politics — to be able to evaluate what he says with a clear head. Just because he says it doesn’t mean you get to declare it false.

This is important — for many reasons. One reason it is important: this is how we end up with this insane situation where tens of millions of people seem to believe a narrative about voting fraud in this country that is entirely made up out of whole cloth. (Yes, there are minor and isolated examples of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, including charged cases of Republicans voting on behalf of dead people, but the narrative of widespread Democrat fraud sufficient to swing any state’s election is utter and complete horseshit.) I am done conversing with people who aggressively advance a false set of factual assumptions and refuse to acknowledge when they are wrong. Such people contribute nothing to Web discourse, and in the case of the dispute over voter fraud they pose an actual danger to our republic. I used to be more patient with such people, but I’m done with that.

If I strongly suspect or know that you are propagating falsehoods, I will give you a chance to back it up. I’m not here to squelch legitimate discourse. And if you try to back up your statements but you’re wrong, I’ll show you where you are wrong and expect you to acknowledge it. If it’s a matter of opinion and not fact, I may disagree and we can part ways agreeing to disagree. If it’s a matter of fact, and you persistently refuse to acknowledge that you are wrong, I am done with you. It is as simple as that.

If I am wrong about anything I have said in this post, anyone can tell me. If you can prove it, I will acknowledge it. I expect the people I deal with to do the same. If they can’t or won’t, I will no longer deal with them.

Thus ends the rant.

UPDATE: I have received a sufficient response from the commenter, here, and I accept the apology and will unmoderate him.

I note that he did not identify the source of his misinformation but I hope that he will be more careful about trusting that source going forward.

Hopefully the post still contains useful information and was not a waste of readers’ time. Some of the detail is useful, and the discussion of the importance of facts is (to me) critical.

Weekend Open Thread

Filed under: General — Dana @ 10:25 am



[guest post by Dana]

Hello! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas.

In a pre-news item, I wanted to share that, for the first time during this cockamamie pandemic, I experienced “mask drama” play out in my little local market. I should preface it by saying that my neck of the woods has an inordinately high population of elderly people. This is not uncommon: you arrive at a four-way neighborhood stop and you can see three shocks of white hair and maybe glasses above the steering wheels of the old Mercedes sedans and ancient Cadillac boats at the other three stop signs. You, because you are not old and follow the rules, wait for the appropriate driver to make their move. But no one does. They sit. And their neighbors sit. And everyone waits. Including you because you understand that safety demands it… Finally, one of the too-big cars slowly lurches forward, as if waking from a long nap. That in turn seems to signal the other drivers that it’s time to go. All at once. Meanwhile, you know better, and you wait. So begins the collective lumbering dance across the intersection. Eventually, everyone miraculously manages to safely cross and you feel like you just ran the gauntlet and survived. Which you did. So, when I zipped into my neighborhood market on Christmas Eve morning, I pretty much knew who might be in the store because I had scanned the parking lot. Sure enough, seconds after I entered the store, an elderly woman’s raspy but firm voice LOUDLY called out: “PUT YOUR MASK ON!!” I reflexively checked my face and breathed a sigh of relief. Not me! I turned around to see that the target was a 20-something a few feet behind me. Again the order came, but this time it was louder and more specific: “PUT YOUR MASK ON NOW! I’M TALKING TO YOU!! YES, Y-O-U IN THE GREEN JACKET!!” You could hear everyone at the front of the store breathe a collective sigh of relief: no green jackets, masks in place. Everyone seemed frozen on the spot though, torn between fearing the shaky finger of accusation finding its way to one of us and exposing some unknown sin and watching the embarrassed young woman trying to laugh it all off while putting her mask on. Anyway, about 10 minutes later I was in a checkout line and glanced to my right. Two lines over from me I saw the same masked-shamed young woman in the green jacket. Except, she was now unmasked. And SHE WAS ACCOMPANIED BY TWO OTHER UNMASKED COMPANIONS! I chuckled. Reinforcements! While I understood the elderly woman’s concern (and the concerns of the other elderly shoppers), I nonetheless continued on with my business because the unmasked trio was about to exit the store. And because I am not an 80-year old baller with a commanding voice and presence and loaded bony finger of confrontation ready to go off on some idiot [without a mask]. But I can’t wait until I am.

Here are a few news items to discuss. Please feel free to share anything you think might interest readers, and make sure to include links.

First news item

Pandemic priorities:

Back when she was a full-time model, Melania Trump used to get the odd fashion magazine cover. No more—and that seems have her hubby a little grouchy on Christmas. “The greatest of all time. Fake News!” the president tweeted about the wife for whom he rarely publicly advocates. Trump retweeted a post from Breitbart sharing an article about what the First Lady wore on her way to Mar-a-Lago from D.C. on Wednesday. “The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years,” the tweet from Breitbart said.

Second news item

That’s fine. But Americans need money NOW. Sign the bill so they can get it asap, and Congress can get to work and earn their keep by producing another bill for a more substantial round of payments:

Third news item

WARNING ISSUED:

“I saved at least 8 Republican Senators, including Mitch, from losing in the last Rigged (for President) Election,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “Now they (almost all) sit back and watch me fight against a crooked and vicious foe, the Radical Left Democrats. I will NEVER FORGET!”

Fourth news item

“Deliberate and intentional”:

Nashville is turning from relief to resolve, Mayor John Cooper said Friday evening after an early morning explosion downtown upended Christmas Day and caused destruction for several blocks.

No known suspects nor motive have been announced behind a bomb that detonated inside a parked RV on Nashville’s historic Second Avenue near Lower Broadway.

Police have found what they believe are human remains but had not confirmed any fatalities.

Fifth news item

Prayers needed during this most grievous of all winters:

Francesca Kaczynski, also known as Bean, Beanie or Beans, died December 24th of complications from cancer. She was nine months old.

In her short life, Francesca was an outgoing, bold and curious baby. She had huge, deep brown eyes that followed whatever her parents were doing. She loved eating and being held close, particularly in the evenings.

And on a lighter note, if you aren’t following the antics of this rescue beaver, then you’re missing some fascinating fun:

Have a good weekend.

–Dana


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