Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 20, 2019

Brian Gongol

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Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.

Breaking news to watch

Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: The opening essay

The moral of the story:

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Last Week's Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Segment 3: (14 min)

Stop the deliberate ignorance

"How much can Congress investigate, and what can come of it?"

Paul Rosenzweig is a senior fellow in national security and cybersecurity at the R Street Institute. He is a past deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the author, co-author, or co-editor of multiple books. He was also a senior counsel in the Whitewater investigation.

He is the author of an article published just yesterday in The Atlantic, titled "By Protecting the Presidency, Mueller Has Hurt the Country".


Brian Gongol: Here's a big question for you. We obviously have spent the last 48 hours or so in a tizzy because the Mueller Report finally dropped. It's still redacted in part, but you can get a pretty good portion of it read. I'm deep into the executive summaries and have been reading it through myself because, well, I feel it's like my civic duty to actually read things before and during commenting on them. Though, at the more than 400-page mark, it's difficult to read the whole thing before I get a chance to talk with you. I do have a job, you know.

But I will note this: I used to be a pretty strong Hamiltonian. I put too much emphasis, I now realize, in the executive branch. And that's probably because I grew up in the Reagan Era -- maybe there was a pinch of that residual JFK Mania lingering in the air, too. We thought that the President was the end-all, be-all of the American government, and that Congress was just supposed to take a back seat.

Now, at the same time that everybody else has been going through "Hamilton" mania, I've been rediscovering my inner Madisonian. That means I've come around on stuff like Congressional investigations. I've realized -- back when I was a Hamiltonian youth, I thought they were expensive and grandstanding exhibitions; they were just distractions. And now, I realize that if Congress doesn't investigate, Congress isn't doing its job. If Congress doesn't issue a few subpoenas once in a while, they're not doing what they're supposed to do.

But I just still don't know the full powers of Congressional inquiry, which is why I'm bringing on an expert guest. Paul Rosenzweig is a senior fellow in national security and cybersecurity at the R Street Institute. We have spoken with them before; they're one of my very favorite think tanks out there. He's also a past deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of Homeland Security. He's the author and co-author of multiple books. He was also a senior counsel in the Whitewater investigation. So he's going to know a whole lot more about it than I am. Thank you, Paul, for joining us here on WHO Radio.

Paul Rosenzweig: Thanks a lot for having me.

Brian Gongol: We have had a little bit of a chance to start digesting the Mueller Report -- the report of the special counsel's investigation. It's not complete -- I'm already deep into the redactions. But we do get a picture coming out of this report. I know what I'm thinking as an armchair analyst, but you've got the expertise. Can you tell me what do you think so far of what you've been able to read and what you've been able to interpret?

Paul Rosenzweig: It is, as you said, a very lengthy and detailed report, and before I give you my view, I want to second something you said in the lead-up, which is that every American who's really concerned about the issues owes it to themselves to read the report itself -- at least, the executive summaries, which are which are actually fairly short and pretty readable -- so that you get it straight from the horse's mouth, rather than filtered through my views or anybody else's.

That having been said, you may want to talk to people who spent more time reading it, like me. And if you were to ask me, I would summarize it this way: The first part of the report -- Volume 1 -- is about the investigation into Russian collusion and Russian interference in the election. And lost in a lot of the chatter is something that really ought to make everybody very unhappy: There is clear and incontrovertible evidence that Russia did attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, both by stealing information from the Democratic [National] Committee and Hillary Clinton, and by engaging in information warfare on social media, like Facebook and Twitter. That ought to scare everybody, since the integrity of our election process is the foundation of American democracy. Whether you're a Hamiltonian or Madisonian, it's critical.

And so it really is, and ought to be, very disturbing (a) that Russia did this, and (b) that so far, stepping outside the report, we really haven't taken it very seriously. We haven't done that much to prevent it from happening again. So my first takeaway is that there's really buried in there something that all Americans should agree on, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, which is that the results of the election should be the results of our election -- not the results of what Russia wants them to be.

Brian Gongol: Straight from the horse's mouth, it says "The office determined that Russia's two principal interference operations in the 2016 US Presidential election, the social-media campaign and the hacking and dumping operations, violated U.S. criminal law." There's no question about that.

Paul Rosenzweig: Well, there isn't -- though I guess the President still doubts it. That's kind of problematic in itself. The other things that you should get from from this report are that, even if the Trump campaign did not affirmatively conspire with the Russians to help make that happen, they were both aware of it and welcomed it. They even went so far as to plan campaign messaging around the expected release of materials about the Democrats that were going to come from Wikileaks. So that doesn't necessarily mean conspiracy and the special counsel said there was no criminal conspiracy, but it does suggest a fair amount of -- at a minimum -- conscious parallelism or even coordination without conspiracy and that also ought to be troubling.

I don't want to politicize the discussion too much, but it strikes me that in any campaign that I would personally want to be affiliated with, if we were aware that the Russians were trying to swing the election in our favor, our reaction would not be to welcome that. My reaction, at least, would be to report that to the FBI or some other authority, and that didn't happen here.

The second piece of the first part of the puzzle is to say that the Mueller Report paints a picture of the President's campaign -- I'm going to speak coloquially -- playing footsie with the Russians, and that's disturbing even if you don't think it's criminal.

Brian Gongol: I'll take it a step further. We had the process of the primary elections, you know, and then the actual general election campaign. We had candidates and campaigns -- their official campaigns -- and then many of them had super-PACs that were favorable to them. And there was a level of communication and a level of coordination and interaction between the Trump campaign and these Russian actors that would have been prohibited, at least as I understand it, if it had been between the Trump campaign and the Trump campaign's related super PAC. Because the super PAC and the campaign for each of these [candidates] were not supposed to communicate with one another, were not supposed to coordinate, and it looks like there was a level of coordination here that if it had been with a super PAC would have violated the law. But because it was with Russian actors, apparently it did not -- or maybe it didn't satisfy the expectation that have violated the law. I mean, I guess I'm a little murky here on what all those laws are that apply to all that anyway, but that's what it seems at least to me.

Paul Rosenzweig: That's a very fair summary. One of the best campaign finance lawyers I know, a man named Bob Bauer, works here in Washington DC. He's said that he actually thinks that the report made out a claim of a campaign-finance violation. His perception is that the report chose not to bring the charges in effect because some of the Trump campaign people, including the President's family, were simply...well, I'm going to characterize it as too stupid to know that they were breaking the law.

That's a little unfair and aggressive me, but it is a characterization, a fair summary, of what Mueller concluded: Which is, namely, that they acted in ways that violate the law, but they were unaware or may have been unaware that they were doing so. Usually, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and yet Mr. Mueller seems to have exercised his discretion here to pull his punches a bit.

Brian Gongol: So tell me about that. This does go on a couple of different levels; obviously, Robert Mueller and his team, as you know, acting on behalf of the Justice Department, were the ones that conducted the investigation. And then what comes out of this? I guess there's a series of, what, there are referrals? There are things that have been spun off to other things like the US Attorney's offices in different locations, and part of this appears to maybe even be a message to Congress. How do you interpret all this, having been down this road before, yourself?

Paul Rosenzweig: That is a great question. The what-comes-next question. There are at least two parts to the answer. First off, we know that a number of Mueller's criminal investigations have been spun off to other parts of the Department of Justice. There's an ongoing investigation in the Southern District of New York into allegations relating, for example, to the President's finances and those of Trump Organization.

In fact, in the appendix to this report, there are 12 cases that were referred that have been completely redacted because they haven't been made public yet. And so we don't know what those 12 cases are, nor do we, to be fair, know whether they will actually result in criminal charges. But there are at least 12 other things that people are investigating right now, which is interesting.

Now, the other part of this is that Mr. Mueller made it very clear -- especially in the second part of his report, relating to obstruction of justice -- that what he found was sufficiently troubling that he thought Congress ought to consider it itself as part of its own Constitutional duties and responsibilities to investigate the conduct of the President.

He declined explicitly to reach a judgment about the President's criminality with respect to obstruction of justice, because the president -- a sitting President -- may not be indicted. So he thought it was inappropriate to say, "Although I would have indicted him, I can't because the law says I can't", and maybe that's right, maybe that's wrong. But what he then went on to explicitly say is that Congress can investigate. Congress can prohibit this conduct, and Congress can determine whether or not it constitutes grounds for changing the law -- or for impeaching the President, and that is, I think, where this will turn next.

Brian Gongol: That ultimately reflects the fact that what we have is not just a question of criminality. Again, the report itself (at least in the executive summary) keeps noting things like "While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges." Well, that tells us that they found something they did not like, [but] it did not meet the standard required for them to act -- at least in their interpretation of what it is that they need to act. But that doesn't negate the fact that there is still a political remedy to things, as well.

There's criminal behavior, and there's stuff that's resolved through criminal processes, but there are also things that reflect the nature of our politics. And there are political things that can be done to respond to this, and some people go, "Oh God, you're getting the politicians into it again." But of course! Because we're supposed to have checks and balances here, it sounds like maybe that's the direction that overall they were nudging this investigation. Am I reading that right?

Paul Rosenzweig: I think you're reading it correctly. In the end, not everything that is criminal is impeachable. I mean, it's a crime to speed, but we wouldn't impeach a President for doing that, right?

Brian Gongol: Barack Obama: notorious leadfoot.

Paul Rosenzweig: And not everything that is impeachable is criminal. Much of what what the President has done could be read by -- seems to have been read by Mueller, and could be read by Congress -- to call into question his fitness for office and his suitability to continue to serve. Even if you don't think it is a crime to order your White House counsel to fire the special counsel, it may very well be something that we think the President should not have done. And yet, Mueller is quite clear that he [President Trump] did that and then he asked his White House counsel to lie about it afterward.

So the President engaged in conduct that seems to border on criminality, even if it doesn't cross the line, and that ought to trouble Congress and certainly gives grounds for them to ask questions.

Brian Gongol: One thing that stands out to me, Paul, and I need your help with this is: The President has said over and over again (because he is, if nothing else, a savant at branding) there's been "no collusion". Well, the report comes out and says pretty clearly "We weren't looking for collusion because there's no legal standard for looking for collusion. We looked for other stuff." Can you help me understand what that was that they were really looking for?

Paul Rosenzweig: Sure. I mean the report is right, and so is your summary: "Collusion" is not a thing, except in in the President's mind. At least, not a legal thing. He might as well have said "no coordination" or something like that, and he'd be just as legally correct. What the Mueller team was looking for was a conspiracy, and a conspiracy is a criminal agreement to act in violation of the law if and when combined with one action in furtherance of that agreement. So, if you and I talked on this radio show about killing your wife -- I don't even know if you're married...

Brian Gongol: I am, and she's lovely!

Paul Rosenzweig: Well, that's good. So this is a hypothetical, right? [If we only talked about it,] that's not a conspiracy. But if we talk about it, and then I go out and buy a gun, then both of us are guilty of the conspiracy to murder your wife. What Mueller was looking for was whether or not there was an agreement, a meeting of the minds, between President Trump or members of the Trump campaign, and members of the Russian government to affect the election.

He found no such agreement, but what he did find would have met, I think, any colloquial definition of contact, coordination, or collusion: More than a hundred contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian nationals, efforts like the Trump Tower meeting by Trump's son, Don Jr., to get "dirt" on Hillary Clinton from a Russian national. These were maybe not the criminal act of a conspiracy to violate the election laws of the United States, but they are, I think, fairly described as instances of contacts and coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.

Brian Gongol: We only have about 60 seconds left. You're with the R Street Institute, where you folks have been doing a lot of work with the legislative branch. What can you tell me about whether any further investigations into this will, as you guys like to say, "make Congress great again"?

Paul Rosenzweig: It seems to be inevitable that Congress will conduct a number of investigations, as well they should. It is time for Congress to step up and reclaim its Article I authority to be the legislative branch of the government, not just second fiddle to the executive. So our motto is "Make Congress great again".

Brian Gongol: It would be nice to see that happen. That would be very Madisonian of you. And again, I know it's Hamilton's moment these days, but it would be really nice to see just a little revival of [Madisonianism]. I'd also love it if America could spend as much time every week talking about a nonfiction book that would make us smarter about science or economics or history or something, but that might be asking a little too much. Paul Rosenzweig with the R Street Institute -- senior fellow there in national security -- thank you very much for your time here on WHO. Where can people follow your work?

Paul Rosenzweig: You can follow me at, which is the R Street organizational website, or on Twitter at @rosenzweigp.

Segment 4: (5 min)

Segment 5: (11 min)

Hot (social) topics

TopicPulse: Discounted rides for 4/20 Day

The moral of the story: Heterodoxy isn't heresy. Most of us have multiple identities and philosophies, and sometimes they're going to be in tension. It happens to be that 4/20 brings out an unusually strong three-way rival in me.

Segment 6: (8 min)

Technology Three | The week in technology

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

Make money

Have fun

Clean up after yourself

Mind your business

The moral of the story:

Segment 8: (5 min)

Tin Foil Hat Award

Two rules of thumb tend to treat me very well in business:

1. People don't give the real reason for things first. They give the real reason second.

2. The person who is first to make an issue out of not getting screwed is the one who's likely to try to do the screwing.

These are pretty good lessons for life in general, too. Take the second one: Most people don't have much of a poker face when it comes to the things they fear that others will see in them. We're usually inclined to overreact most to the things we fear most about ourselves.

A classic example is homophobia. You find someone who's just a rabid, reactionary homophobe, and you've probably found someone who is either (a) a 13-year-old boy who's terrified of his own body and what it's going to do sometime in a locker room, or (b) an adult who's spent a lot of time trying to repress feelings that for some reason they fear.

Normal, healthy adults don't have to try to prove things to themselves or others if they're really secure. That's why we call it "overcompensation". If you love your wife, are confident in your work, and are fit as a fiddle, then you're probably not spending your time bragging about your teenage romantic conquests, showing off your outlandishly overpriced car, or shouting your marathon times at everyone in the grocery store.

Put another way, it's not the couples who rarely engage each other on Facebook who worry me. If you're connected in life, you don't actually have to spend all of your time slathering kissy-face emojis all over your partner's wall. The ones who worry me are the couples who spend inordinate amounts of effort trying to convince everyone else that they're just so madly in love that surely they're about to burst in a rainbow-besotted mushroom cloud of emotion.

Mobs tend to be like that, too -- when crowds gather, either in real life or online, and turn into frothing packs of werewolves out for the blood of some deviant, there's a really good chance that the mob is composed of a whole lot of people fearful of being exposed as deviants themselves. If you can't escape guilt, then it's probably easier to point others at another offender and hope that you're never noticed.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a good Irish Catholic, so there's an invisible cloud of guilt that lingers around me at all times, like I'm Pigpen from the old "Peanuts" cartoons. But, no matter how healthy or unhealthy it is to feel that way about the world, at least that classic sense of Irish Catholic guilt is directed inwards. It's not for public absolution; it's there for perpetual private torment. At least it's mostly on the side of good, too: "Be nicer to your mother. Don't throw away that food; someone might get hungry later. Did you really tip that nice server enough?"

It's when the guilt turns public-facing that we have to ask questions. The louder, the more unhinged, the greater the chance that it's overcompensation for an inconvenient truth.

The moral of the story: The President had a choice early on. The honest choice would have been to welcome a thorough investigation of his team, unreserved cooperation with the investigators, and a promise to purge from his orbit anyone who had violated the law or even threatened to harm his reputation or the reputation of the country. He didn't do that. He still hasn't done that. He gives no indication he ever will do that. There is such a thing as protesting too much.

Unsorted and leftovers:


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Listen to the full episode from April 20, 2019 here

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What's on your Easter plate? It's the Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day.

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③ and ④ What is Congress going to do with the Mueller Report? What should it investigate? Paul Rosenzweig of the R Street Institute was a counsel on the Whitewater investigation, and he has an insider's perspective we all need to hear.

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The President protests too much. The old rule is "Show, don't tell". If he wants the world to believe he's innocent, he ought to spend more energy on being transparent than on proclaiming innocence. Prisons are full of people who loudly claim they were wrongly accused.

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