Thursday, April 19, 2018

The McCabe Report is Just an Appetizer

April 17, 2018

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Al Drago/The New York Times
What a delicious hors d’oeuvre Michael Horowitz gave the world on Friday! The inspector general for Department of Justice finally issued his eagerly awaited (eagerly awaited by some of us, anyway) report on Andrew McCabe, the disgraced former deputy director of the FBI.
Note that this is only an appetizer. In the coming weeks, Horowitz will follow up with entrees on the FBI’s partisan activities in the 2016 presidential election and, later, another report on (if I may employ the term) collusion with the State Department.
As of this writing, it is unclear exactly what the scope of the inspector general’s inquiries will be.
Speaking for myself, I hope the dessert course includes a close look at the January 5, 2017 meeting at the White House meeting at which President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, NSA director Susan “By the Book” Rice, and acting Attorney General Sally “Insubordinate” Yates were briefed by the country’s chief spooks—former FBI director James “Higher Loyalty” Comey, NSA chief Michael Rogers, CIA chief John “I Voted for Gus Hall” Brennan, and James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence who delighted the television audiences everywhere when he instructed Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was “a largely secular organization” that had “eschewed violence.” The country was in the very best of hands back then! What was the subject? Exactly what they were and were not going to tell the incoming administration about the ongoing investigation into possible Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election? The “knotty question,” as Andrew McCarthy put it in a searing column on the event, was how to “engage” the incoming administration while also keeping them in the dark. Amazing.
But I digress. We’ll have to wait for Horowitz to serve up the additional courses he has cooking. But right now we can enjoy his refreshing treat of McCabe-kabob, grilled to perfection.
Andrew McCabe, you might recall, was a central player in the pseudo-investigation of Hillary Clinton’s misuse of classified information and self-enrichment schemes while Secretary of State. He was one of the people who made sure that went nowhere. He was also a central figure in the get-Mike-Flynn operation and, later, the Great Trump Hunt that has been occupying Robert Mueller for nearly a year.
McCabe leaked information about an investigation to a Wall Street Journal reporter, lied about leaking in casual conversations with superiors as well as under oath. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, digesting a preliminary report on McCabe’s conduct, fired him in March 2018 (not even a month ago, but it seems like forever).
The Left got its collective nappy in a twist over that, claiming that it somehow impeded Mueller’s boundless fishing expedition and also that it was callous to Andrew McCabe because he was fired just a day before he was entitled to his full pension. (He did not, by the way, “lose his pension” as some reported, merely a final escalator, and it is not even clear that that will survive litigation.)
For his part, McCabe took to the pages The Washington Post to deliver a weepy threnody of self-pity and attempted self-exoneration. It was an embarrassing performance. “I felt sick and disoriented,” he sniffed. He complained of President’s Trump’s “cruelty.” Just as the President had been a meany to James Comey, so he was to little Andy. “The president’s comments about me were equally hurtful and false, which shows that he has no idea how FBI people feel about their leaders.”
But the meat of McCabe apologia is contained in these few sentences:
I have been accused of “lack of candor.” That is not true. I did not knowingly mislead or lie to investigators. When asked about contacts with a reporter that were fully within my power to authorize as deputy director, and amid the chaos that surrounded me, I answered questions as completely and accurately as I could. And when I realized that some of my answers were not fully accurate or may have been misunderstood, I took the initiative to correct them.
As the recent Inspector General’s report shows, however, every claim in those sentences is a lie. To wit:
We found that, in a conversation with then-Director Comey shortly after the WSJ article was published, McCabe lacked candor when he told Comey, or made statements that led Comey to believe, that McCabe had not authorized the disclosure and did not know who did. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.5 (Lack of Candor – No Oath).
We also found that on May 9, 2017, when questioned under oath by FBI agents from INSD, McCabe lacked candor when he told the agents that he had not authorized the disclosure to the WSJ and did not know who did. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath).
We further found that on July 28, 2017, when questioned under oath by the OIG in a recorded interview, McCabe lacked candor when he stated: (a) that he was not aware of Special Counsel having been authorized to speak to reporters around October 30 and (b) that, because he was not in Washington, D.C., on October 27 and 28, 2016, he was unable to say where Special Counsel was or what she was doing at that time. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath).
Allow me to translate the central phrase here: “lack of candor” is DOJ bureaucratese for “false statements, misrepresentations, the failure to be fully forthright, or the concealment or omission of a material fact/information,” i.e., lying.
Bottom line, partisan hack Andrew McCabe leaked information to the media about an ongoing investigation because he wanted to help Hillary Clinton and harm Donald Trump. He then lied repeatedly about his behavior both under oath and in unsworn conversation with superiors. He deserved to be fired by Jeff Sessions. I think he also deserves to be prosecuted. But since he is a Hillary partisan and Trump hater, I very much doubt he will be.
Still, reading Michael Horowitz’s meticulously researched report is a bracing experience. And who knows, perhaps Andrew McCabe was prudent to assemble a $500,000 GoFundMe legal defense fund. “It is not easy,” Jonathan Turley noted at The Hill, “to transform oneself from a once-powerful public official terminated for cause to the equivalent of a late-night, mud-splattered stray seeking shelter. However, McCabe had the media, which portrayed him as a noble civil servant viciously and unfairly targeted by Trump operatives.” Thanks to Michael Horowitz, however, we now know that, far from “noble.” Instead, he was a lying, partisan hack. What we’ll find out next, I predict, is that he was also part of the largest political scandal in U.S. history: a concerted effort by operatives in the Department of Justice, the FBI, and other intelligence agencies to influence the course of a presidential election and then, when that didn’t work, to sabotage the people’s choice.

This meal is far from over. But I suspect that Michael Horowitz will be filling out the menu at least as robustly as that fisher of men, Robert Mueller.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Today's Tune: Lord Huron - When The Night Is Over

A Look Inside The Insular World Of Lord Huron

By Ian Cohen
April 16, 2018
Lord Huron @ Teragram Ballroom. 3/8/18.
Lord Huron at Teragram Ballroom March 8, 2018
Ben Schneider, as is his tendency, is trying to remember the night we met. The Lord Huron mastermind believes it took place after a show where his fledgling band opened for Avi Buffalo. I always assumed it was Abe Vigoda. Either way, this is definitely an “LA indie rock in 2010″ story. That’s the world Lord Huron occupied in their early days, long before they evolved into an expansive festival-folk juggernaut that will take their fizzy and fuzzy upcoming third LP, the Dave Fridmann-mixed Vide Noir, to a large outdoor amphitheater near you.
Schneider recorded his first two EPs, Into The Sun and Mighty, entirely by himself and pulled almost exclusively from the prevailing trends of 2007-2009: throwing bits of Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, Local Natives, Animal Collective, and Fleet Foxes into My Morning Jacket’s abandoned grain silo. They had a bearded percussionist who wore a washboard like a catcher’s chest protector. A friend of mine considers herself the biggest Lord Huron fan on Earth — the type that will just let Strange Trails and Lonesome Dreams repeat for an eight-hour workday on Spotify — but says she missed out on the original EPs. Her excuse: “They were so hipster back then.”
This is funny to Schneider because he can’t believe he was ever anyone’s idea of the quintessential Silver Lake indie rocker. The generally press-averse 33-year-old has kept the same Michigan phone number since he was a teen (“I couldn’t shake it, I gotta stay true to who I am”). He found his first big break not at the Satellite or the Echo, but as a result of following his sister’s advice and handing out CD-Rs of his self-recorded EPs (with Kinkos-made artwork) at a festival in Big Sur. “We didn’t have time to think about [our goals], it just started happening,” Schneider shrugs. “When the other guys came out here just to play a few shows, we thought it was really just to play a few shows. And they just never went home.”
And my friend’s explanation is funny to me because…here’s Schneider and I throwing around antiquated industry terms like “hipster,” “buzzband,” and “CMJ,” and it makes me feel like a grizzled prospector. A time when Lord Huron could conceivably be an indicator of our present moment feels like ancient history or science fiction at this point. Early favorite “The Stranger” was included on 2012’s Lonesome Dreams and Lord Huron’s beginnings already felt at odds with the sound they’d continue to develop on Strange Trails three years later — a toothy, wholesome Americana whose doomed drifters and outlaws drew from Southern and Wild West legend and were given a geographically indistinct twang. Meanwhile, their sleek multimedia presentation was an extension of Schneider’s art school-to-LA trajectory and background in graphic design.
Both Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails were products of Schneider’s capacity for proggy world-building, their fictional narratives supplemented by movie trailers, Instagram-supplied Easter Eggs, and comic books. The songs of Lonesome Dreams were modeled after the works of George Ranger Johnson, a 71-year-old adventure novelist who resides in Tucson and also is not a real person. The videos for Strange Trails are glimpses into its own interior narrative, which involves a roving gang called the World Enders. Even beyond hiring Fridmann to provide his typically blown-out, bottom-heavy mix to the surprisingly propulsive and virile Vide Noir, it features Schneider’s most opulent and ambitious rollout. The band made seven songs from Vide Noir available to stream at geo-locations across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, some of which include national parks, beaches, and a volcano. Lord Huron will also be releasing public access visuals that will air on local TV stations throughout America, and Schneider dubbed them on a handful of limited edition VHS tapes. There also comic books, the “choose your own adventure hotline” and the website, which contains more information about all of the above.
Clearly, Schneider recognizes that user interface has been the driver of Lord Huron’s steady rise in lieu of an explosive, aisle-crossing hit or effusive critical acclaim. After landing a couple of TV syncs, “The Night We Met” was included in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and subsequently confirmed platinum nearly two years after it was released. (I still don’t know what it takes for a single to go “platinum” in the Spotify age and maybe you don’t either.) Reviews of Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails have been cautiously positive and increasingly rare while Lord Huron have been entirely uninterested in producing content beyond their own albums. Yeah, when you type it all out, Lord Huron are diametrically opposed to every single thing that’s passed for the indie rock zeitgeist in the past six years, a strident course correction from the aughts’ more earnest, folky, and collegiate aesthetics. This seems to suit Schneider just fine. “We never try to be part of scene,” he says, less a statement of independence than his casual admittance of how hard it’s been for him to actually keep up with any scene; he’s just now getting into King Krule, for what it’s worth. Despite all of this — or maybe because of it — Lord Huron are way more popular than you think.
Last year saw plenty of bands once viewed as Lord Huron’s elder superiors return after long hiatuses, finding themselves in a skeptical, if not outwardly hostile, critical environment. Many tasked themselves with justifying their own existence, not to their fans, but to the “narrative” that no longer seemed interested in indie rock, especially apolitical indie rock made by white men in their 30s. In particular, Ed Droste from Grizzly Bear groused about how the current state of the music industry is destined to destroy bands “mid tier or lower,” presumably including himself in that mid tier. “Nobody cares about the craft of songwriting, and it’s impossible to put on a good tour,” he complained, later clarifying his remarks which otherwise paralleled with the prevalent idea that bands like his are being discarded in the interest of click-chasing.
And yet, Lord Huron have succeeded by caring about little else besides craft and touring. “We’ve always put a lot of time and effort into our live show. From the beginning, that’s been something I didn’t want to skimp on,” Schneider explains. “When we were coming up in 2010, we saw a lot of bands who, for better or worse, just did karaoke,” and yeah, I’ll concede to his version of our first encounter because he clearly remembers that year in its most accurate terms. “Because we’ve put so much time and effort into it, people are willing to watch us play live, and we’ve toured a lot. I still get goosebumps when I see that anyone in the audience knows any of the lyrics, it’s still a surreal experience for me.”
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STEREOGUM: On what part of the live experience do you focus most of that extra “time and effort”?
SCHNEIDER: The first thing that we keep in mind is that it’s not gonna be the same thing as the record. It’s just not, no matter how hard you try — and I think that’s a healthy thing. It should be a different experience than sitting at home and listening to the record. So right off the bat, you have to let go of some of the instrumentation because we just can’t tour with a 20-piece band. It’s just making sure it sounds good — as simple as that sounds, it’s the thing we won’t compromise. There are some songs that people request a lot that we don’t play even though we want to, just because we’ve never been quite able to get it there. “Frozen Pines” is one we’ve struggled with for a long time, it’s just hard to describe why we can’t get it right, but we’ll keep trying. There are a couple from Lonesome Dreams and even “Mighty,” we’re always struggling to get that one to sound right because it’s so dense. It changes when you have your own front-of-house, but back then, we’d be playing 10 shows at SXSW just trying to explain to the sound man, “no…I’m serious, I want more reverb.” That was a constant struggle for us.
STEREOGUM: Likewise, it can sound gauche for a band to say that they were able to achieve their goals on an album on account of having more time and money, but how did you take advantage of a major label’s resources?
SCHNEIDER: It was nice to be able to work with Dave Fridmann. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and especially with the sound we wanted to get with this record, it just felt like a really great fit. He’s an incredible guy. It’s also just having the ability to pay people to help us make these videos and these films and all that, because I want everyone to benefit from it. But it’s also the time, that always seems to be the thing — on the road, you can’t really do much else besides be “on the road.” You can try to fit in working on other things and I’ll write a little bit, but it just takes up so much time. We know how important it is, so we’ll keep doing it.
STEREOGUM: Fridmann’s always been a big name for people like us in our 30s who came up on late-’90s indie rock. What were the albums he’s produced that made you think, “we gotta get this guy”?
SCHNEIDER: He’s been so consistent — he’s just always been a name that’s popped up on records, basically my whole life. From the very early Flaming Lips stuff through The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi up to Tame Impala, even Baroness and stuff like that — he’s just done so many cool things, he always brings something fresh to whatever he works on. This is a very bass- and drums-heavy record, that’s his thing, so he’s the guy to call.
STEREOGUM: Was there a sense that Lord Huron had settled into a groove after Strange Trails?
SCHNEIDER: For us, [Vide Noir] was more about setting loose ground rules for this world, and then, it’s whatever feels like a good fit or colors it in an interesting way or adds something. I was just really into writing songs on bass and baritone guitar and it felt like it fit within this vibe very well. I never had that sense where “we’re reinventing ourselves!” or anything, it’s really just following what we’re interested in and making this thing that seems interesting to us. There’s plenty of acoustic guitar still on there, but usually, it’s distorted and blown to shit.
STEREOGUM: This is more of a nocturnal, insular album than past Lord Huron records. Have you thought about how this might translate in festival settings?
SCHNEIDER: That’s definitely something we’re thinking about and we’ve always struggled with that a little bit. We’d really like to be able to have “our show” and control the environment a little bit just to enhance the experience as much as possible. The reality is you gotta do these festivals and…they’re pretty fun in their own way. We just realize it’s not the same thing and you gotta have a different set list or type of vibe you’re trying to communicate. It’s nice that we have a deeper catalog where we can pick songs that fit that setting more than some of the stuff that might fit our own show a little better.
STEREOGUM: The lyrics of “Ancient Names (Part I)” and Vide Noir in general show an interest in the occult and superstition. Has there been anything recently that’s inspired you to look more into these realms?
SCHNEIDER: I think it’s just an interesting way to think about the future or your fate or whatever’s coming your way — to consider if there was some way to foresee that at all. And a big thing I was thinking about with this record: I’m all for science and I believe in it and I’m happy to see a lot of the destructive superstitions and strange beliefs we’ve developed over the years being destroyed with our scientific discoveries. Another part of me laments their loss. Superstition and religion, for all of its negative effects, has this interesting beauty to me that humans have created, especially mythology, legend and fortune tellers, things like “the 13th floor of a building.” All this weird stuff that’s been irrefutably overturned that we still hang on to, I’m interested in how we preserve some of that stuff just because there’s a certain truth and beauty in it.
STEREOGUM: Such as, “The Balancer’s Eye.”
SCHNEIDER: “Balancer’s Eye” is one we created ourselves, making up our own myths as we go. We’re trying to keep it so all that stuff is still around in this world too. You’ll see things that appeared on other records, ideas or names cross over to [Vide Noir]. In movies and literature and comic books, I’ve always liked where there’s connectedness or crossover. We need someone to control the lore and keep tabs on it [laughs].
STEREOGUM: Are there hardcore Lord Huron fans that point out discrepancies or contradictions in the worlds you’ve created?
SCHNEIDER: We definitely have some fans who are deep into it, which is helpful, they can kinda help us sort things out. Because a lot of times, I don’t even know what it means.
STEREOGUM: What new influences were you looking toward to help build this world?
SCHNEIDER: One thing that’s maybe a strange inspiration is Raymond Chandler, and I was trying to get that kind of vibe, even down to the title. I wanted to pay homage to the old noir and sci-fi. The picture he paints of LA is so iconic and so appealing to me. I can still see it when I drive around, the world he was describing in those books. I love the idea of someone going on an odyssey through the city trying to figure something out.
STEREOGUM: Even going back to the first EPs, I’d describe most of the narrators in Lord Huron songs as just that — this kind of lone, masculine figure trying to make sense of a world that’s seemingly passing him by. In the past couple of years, there’s been a more critical view taken of Old Hollywood and especially the more stereotypically masculine writers like Raymond Chandler, Norman Mailer, and such. Have you had to reassess what this means for your writing?
SCHNEIDER: The character that often appears [in Lord Huron songs], for better or for worse — I’m not gonna deny it’s some component of me. Whatever I write, I start from a nugget of something that happened to me or someone really close to me and let it spin off into fiction. But the way I always look at that character was a kind of false masculinity. If you think about what ends up happening to this character or group of characters, it’s often foolishness and in some cases hubris, and they generally end up ruining themselves. The way I’ve always thought of it was that I was casting a critical eye towards that sort of male trope in a lot of ways — it’s false. And I think it’s often a trap for people. It’s something that maybe I’ve struggled with a bit and the idea of being a loner, maybe it has appeal in a fictional way but if you really think about what that person’s life is like, it’s like…not such a rosy picture.
STEREOGUM: That’s a similar perspective I got from talking to artists like Greg Dulli and George from Twin Shadow about Confess — their imagery and lyrical content presents as machismo, but they’ve both viewed their past work as cautionary tales. But given the dialogue of 2018, are you concerned that people will just take lyrics like, “she went west to chase her dreams/ she took my money but she didn’t take me” at face value?
SCHNEIDER: I love seeing how different people interpret what we do. It’s interesting, a lot of people contact us about using our songs in their wedding or something and I think they’ll only fixate on one part of that story because almost always, they end in a way that I don’t think you want to associate with your marriage. I think that’s cool, though. I’m sure you’re never gonna please everybody, but I try to approach songwriting in a somewhat responsible way, or I’m honestly assessing it. But it’ll be interesting to see that, I do wonder.
Vide Noir is out 4/20 via Whispering Pines/Republic Records. Pre-order it here.
TAGS: Lord Huron

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Pathetic Comey Spectacle

Former FBI director continues his lying self-righteous preening.

April 17, 2018

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Disgraced former FBI Director James Comey is making a pathetic spectacle of himself as he pitches his book with a whirlwind media blitz. Comey’s Sunday interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC managed to achieve higher ratings than its floundering American Idol lead-in. However, the ratings did not even rise to half the number of viewers who tuned into the Stormy Daniels interview on CBS’s Sixty Minutes last month. Each interview was a tawdry attempt to smear President Trump. However, compared to Comey’s self-righteous façade under which he sought to obscure his own misdeeds of lying to Congress under oath and leaking information he prepared while still the FBI director, Stormy Daniels came across as the more believable interviewee.
Comey told Stephanopoulos that an ethical leader is “someone who realizes that lasting values have to be at the center of their leadership.” Such a leader, Comey said, must “focus on things like fairness and integrity and, most of all, the truth.” Comey claimed that President Trump, whom he compared to a “mob boss” for demanding absolute loyalty, does not meet that test. "Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country,” Comey said. “The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that.” Comey’s verdict was that Mr. Trump is “morally unfit to be president."  
James Comey fails miserably in meeting his own standard of truthfulness. He lied to Congress under oath, for example, regarding when he reached his conclusion that Hillary Clinton’s e-mail transgressions did not merit prosecution. He testified that he had not decided to exonerate Hillary Clinton until after she was interviewed on July 2, 2016. It turns out that he had been involved in the drafting of a letter exonerating her weeks before key witnesses, including Hillary Clinton herself, were interviewed. Comey admitted to Stephanopoulos that by May of 2016 – about 2 months before he publicly announced his recommendation not to prosecute Clinton – he knew where the investigation was headed. While claiming that he had an open mind should new facts emerge, Comey said that “after nine or ten months of investigating, it looked like on the current course and speed, this is going to end without charges.” He reached that conclusion without the benefit of a grand jury, which would have been customary in cases of such gravity. “Lot more flexibility,” he said in explaining why no grand jury was convened. Comey’s whole stewardship of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation gave him “lot more flexibility” to maneuver the outcome in Hillary’s favor. 
Comey substituted in his draft exoneration letter, and later in his public exoneration statement on July 5, 2016, the phrase “extremely careless” for the legal term “gross negligence,” which appears in a federal statute covering the handling of classified information under which Hillary Clinton could have been prosecuted. Here is how Comey tried to rationalize what he had done:
“So my first draft, which I wrote myself, said, ‘Gross negligence.’ It's a lawyer term. And the reason I used that term is I wanted to also explain that I don't mean that in the sense that a statute passed 100 years ago means it. And then my staff convinced me that that's just going to confuse all kinds of people, if you start talking about statutes and what the words mean. What's a colloquial way to explain it? And elsewhere in my statement I had said, ‘Extremely careless.’ And so they said, ‘Just use that.’ And so that's what I went with.”
Even though Comey admits having found sufficient facts on which to base a case of “gross negligence,” he decided to muddy the record by substituting a colloquial expression that means pretty much the same thing but avoids using the actual statutory language. Then he claimed, contrary to the operative statute, that only a finding of “intent” would merit prosecution. Comey himself could be found guilty of obstructing justice by playing legislator and judge rather than the FBI director responsible only for investigating and reporting the relevant facts to the Department of Justice.
Regarding Comey’s own corrupted view of obstruction of justice, Comey repeated during his interview with Stephanopoulos his description of a private one-on-one discussion he had with President Trump that he claimed gave rise to his concerns about possible obstruction of justice. The president had directed other participants in a prior meeting, including Vice President Pence and Attorney General Sessions, to leave the room so that Comey and the president would be alone for a subsequent talk. Comey said this was so unusual that his “antennae were up.” According to Comey’s account, President Trump said he hoped Comey would “let it go” with regard to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who was under criminal investigation at the time. Comey said he “took it as a direction” to drop the criminal investigation. That was only in Comey’s mind, however. Nothing the president actually said, as reported by Comey himself, amounted to a direction. Moreover, Comey did not say that President Trump followed up in any way to make sure that the “direction” Comey imagined was carried out.
Nevertheless, Comey claimed in the Stephanopoulos interview that the president’s request, made during the one-on-one discussion, was “certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.” Yet, during the same interview, Comey shamelessly whitewashed the whitewashing of Hillary’s private server and other destruction of potential evidence. He said that his team “could never establish, develop the evidence… that anybody who did that did it with a corrupt intent. And most importantly, any indication that Secretary Clinton knew that was happening and knew that it was an effort to obstruct justice.”
In Comey’s mind, a request for leniency by the president of the United States, who has full pardon power under the Constitution, could rise to the level of obstruction of justice even though there was no follow-through by the president and the investigation of Flynn proceeded without interruption. Comey’s hatred of President Trump led him to the conclusion that a simple request for prosecutorial discretion, not a command, which was well within the president’s constitutional authority as the nation’s chief executive officer, could rise to the level of obstruction of justice. However, the destruction of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails under congressional subpoena, and the wiping clean of the server on which they reportedly resided, lack any indicia of “corrupt intent,” according to Comey. Did it ever occur to Comey that the very act of destruction of such evidence without any credible justification indicates consciousness of guilt, which merited a grand jury investigation? Obviously not, since he let Hillary off the hook. 
Comey descended into the gutter during his interview with Stephanopoulos when he said, “I don't know whether the-- the-- current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.” Comey was describing his disclosure to then President-elect Trump unsubstantiated accusations that had appeared in the infamous Steele dossier, including the alleged prostitute episode. The fact that Comey would even consider the possibility that such tabloid disinformation, based on Russian sources, could be true is bad enough. What’s worse is Comey’s utter unethical behavior in not telling Mr. Trump that the Steele dossier had been financed by his political opponents. Comey told Stephanopoulos that he did not feel it necessary to reveal that fact because “it wasn't necessary for my goal, which was to alert him that we had this information.” We shouldn’t be surprised, considering that Comey’s FBI had left out from its FISA court application seeking a warrant to spy on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, that the Steele dossier used to support the application had been financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Comey himself signed the misleading application.
James Comey abused his position as FBI director and turned his office into a shield for Hillary Clinton and a sword against President Trump, Comey's protestations of virtue notwithstanding. He deserved to be fired and now deserves to be criminally investigated for lying under oath and illegally leaking government-owned information for personal purposes.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review: ‘Bosch’ and the Art of the Pure Police Procedural

By Mike Hale
April 13, 2018

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Jamie Hector and Titus Welliver

Among the many new statistics created by the baseball maven Bill James is the similarity score, which compares players across eras. The most similar player to the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes? Gus Zernial of the early 1950s Philadelphia Athletics.

If similarity scores could be applied to television shows, there’s no doubt which current series would score as most similar to the classic 1950s cop show “Dragnet.” Detective Harry Bosch doesn’t actually say “This is the city: Los Angeles, California,” but “Bosch” — whose fourth season went up Friday on Amazon Prime — is the spiritual heir to that granddaddy of laconic L.A. procedurals.

It’s part of a tradition that carries down through “Adam-12,” “Police Woman,” “Quincy, M.E.,” “The Shield” and “Southland,” and it wears its nostalgia proudly. Neither the character nor the show makes apologies for being old school. “Bosch” isn’t the best or most original series, but it’s honest and reliable, like Bosch. It plays fair with the viewer, and among fans of its genre, it has a rabid following.

Developed for television by Eric Overmyer from novels by Michael Connelly, the show accommodates the modern serial drama’s requirements for psychology and back story. Bosch’s daughter and ex-wife are significant characters, and the unsolved murder of his mother (with its echoes of the Black Dahlia case) continues to haunt him in Season 4. (A fifth season has already been ordered.)

But the soul of the series is procedural crime-solving, and that’s more than ever the case in the new season, which focuses on the murder of an African-American lawyer who was about to go to court with a brutality case against the Los Angeles Police Department.

Bosch and his team spend their time doing phone dumps, poring through financial records, searching homes and offices and then searching them again, and endlessly, fruitlessly tailing suspects through the Southern California streets and strip malls. They do it all on camera, and they complain about it. A lot.

The romantic associations of the setting balance this attention to the quotidian details of police work — the classic bargain of Los Angeles noir. “Bosch” is discreet but determined in its use of evocative locations, which this season include the Bradbury Building, the Biltmore Hotel, Du-pars at the Farmers Market, the abandoned Red Line tunnels beneath downtown and, most prominently, the Angels Flight funicular that still runs up and down Bunker Hill. The Smog Cutter, the Silver Lake dive bar, makes its final appearances, having closed late last year.

Anchoring it all is the deliberate, heavy quietude of Titus Welliver’s performance as Bosch, communicating untold skepticism and disdain through an arched eyebrow or a downturned lip. Mr. Welliver can suggest an entire personality in the way he stares at a whiteboard or silently chooses which chair to sit in, and the show has matched him with other nonhistrionic actors like Jamie Hector (as his partner), Sarah Clarke (his former wife) and Madison Lintz (his daughter).

The unhurried pace of “Bosch” can sometimes slow to a crawl, the writing can be workmanlike and the secondary story lines involving Bosch’s family or Los Angeles politics can be thin. But when it errs, it errs on the side of literalness rather than falseness, of plainness rather than pretension. The show doesn’t require patience so much as relaxation. Surrender to its hard-boiled charms, and it will treat you right.

Film Review: 'Chappaquiddick'

By Mark Steyn
April 14, 2018

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Jason Clarke as Edward Kennedy

As I wrote a few days ago, I had minimal expectations of Chappaquiddick The Movie, which opened last week despite the best efforts of the Kennedy family and their various retainers and enablers. I have always been revolted by the fact that Ted, after killing Mary Jo Kopechne, did not have the decency to do a John Profumo and retire from public life for the rest of his days - and I was even more revolted by the way Massachusetts voters did not have the decency to impose that choice upon him.

But utter contempt for your protagonist doesn't make for very interesting drama. So it is to the film's benefit that its director, writers and Jason Clarke in the lead role manage to locate enough humanity in the empty waddling husk of Teddy to make a compelling story. Mr Clarke is Australian, his director John Curran is American but has spent much of his career Down Under, and the screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan are two first-timers born a decade after Chappaquiddick and who'd apparently never heard the word until 2008. That combination of outsiders and neophytes may be one reason why this film is considerably more gripping and potent than a cookie-cutter limousine-liberal yawnfest like The Post.

In the shorthand of history, Chappaquiddick is a stand-alone event, but it occurred, in fact, on the July weekend in 1969 that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon - and it arose from a reunion of the "Boiler Room Girls", the devoted young ladies who'd worked on Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign of the previous year. So Teddy, the youngest Senate Majority Whip in history, is nevertheless staggering in the shadow of both his dazzling brother's recent assassination and the fulfillment of his other assassinated brother's most audacious challenge. He is there, ostensibly, to compete in the Edgartown Yacht Club's annual regatta, in the family sailboat Victura, which his other dead brother, Joe Jr, killed in the war, first sailed over thirty years earlier. One feels entirely confident that, if the Kennedy patriarch - old Joe, stroke-afflicted but still running the show - had expressed a preference over which of his four sons would be the only one to survive, Teddy would have been last on the list. We meet him early on, in his room at the Shiretown Inn, climbing into his swim trunks and checking himself in the mirror before heading for the beach and the girls. Pushing forty, he still seems to have his puppy fat, a soft and doughy middle-aged child.

There is, as it happens, another brother - or "brother": Kennedy cousin Joe Gargan, who lost his parents at a young age and was raised by Teddy's parents as (almost) one of their own. As played by Ed Helms, Joe is the conscience of the picture: he doesn't exactly do the right thing, but he's broadly in favor of others doing the right thing, which, in the moral universe of the Kennedys, gives him a sporting chance of winding up a couple of circles of hell further out from where the rest of them are headed. He's officially Ted's lawyer but more importantly his fixer. So we see him in the payphone outside the Shiretown Inn, on the line to the Senator in Washington, reassuring him that the bedroom for "the girl" has been taken care of.

Phone booths are a kind of motif of the picture and its milieu: 1969 is the pre-cellular age, and too many nosy desk clerks like to listen in on the room lines. Ted isn't good at a lot of things (he flubs the sailboat race after steering the Victura into a buoy) but he knows where the payphones are, and he knows how to work them. The Senator is married, of course, but it's understood by all that Joan Kennedy never comes to regatta weekend. When her husband gets into trouble, she's prevailed upon to show up, because it's part of the deal. But she's a prop, and in this film almost a non-speaking part: She has just one line, three words delivered to Ted when he climbs into the car and thanks her for coming. She responds by suggesting he, er, do to himself what he's done to her and almost every other woman he's used and discarded over the years.

Jason Clarke's is not exactly a sympathetic portrait, but it is rounded: his Teddy is self-absorbed and self-loathing, both aware of his weakness and cowardice, and yet unable to overcome the Kennedy family's sense of its own indispensability. You get a sense of the peculiarly isolating quality of American politics at its upper echelons, so different from the unglamorous parliamentary life of other countries. This Ted is a lonely man who's never alone, buffed and polished by a round-the-clock retinue. He's a brand, assumed to be a shoo-in for the '72 presidential nomination, though he himself seems to have no particular enthusiasm for it, and, by comparison to their love for Bobby, even the girls' encouragement seems pro forma and dutiful. His wheelchair-bound speech-afflicted father, in a gothic performance by Bruce Dern, manages to loose off one complete sentence in the picture, albeit a word longer than Joan Kennedy's: "You'll. Never. Be. Great." Forced through his slack, hanging lips to his last son, there must surely be, for a Kennedy scion, no more damning indictment.

But what if Ted doesn't want to be great? What if he'd just like twenty minutes away from it all sitting on the hood of his Olds parked on the edge of a deserted beach with a girl who seems to feel a connection to him.

Ah, but even then the talk is only of politics and destiny...

What happened is well known: The party to thank the Boiler Room Girls of his late brother's campaign is well lubricated. He leaves with a blonde, and then, instead of turning left for the ferry to Edgartown, he swings right onto a dirt road leading to a deserted beach. At a wooden bridge with no guard rails Teddy makes his own personal moon shot: the car sails through the air and lands upside down in a dark tidal pond. The guy gets out and makes it to the surface. He leaves the girl down there. All this has been the subject of innumerable books and magazine articles and newspaper columns, but it is shocking to see it, in prosaic, unsparing, heartless detail. The sodden Senator walks all the way back to the party, past houses with lights burning, full of people who could have called for help, who themselves could have helped. Instead, he totters on to his fixers, and tells them, self-pityingly, "I'm never going to be president."

Mary Jo Kopechne is something of a cipher in her own story: She led a short, varied life, but, as played by Kate Mara, she's mainly there to look the part, "the girl". John Curran, directing with unflashy efficiency, nevertheless conjures the horror of her final hours: We see Mary Jo in the car at the bottom of the pond, then Ted back in the inn soaking in the tub; Mary Jo pressed up against the shrinking air pocket, Ted adjusting his tie and combing his hair; Mary Jo sobbing and gasping out her last "Hail, Mary" at the hour of her death, Ted heading down to breakfast with supporters in the hotel dining room - until he's interrupted by Joe Gargan, aghast to discover it's the morning after and that Kennedy still hasn't reported the accident. And yet Joe too slips reflexively into damage-control mode.

The normal reaction is that of the Chappaquiddick fisherman and his son rounding the bend. The kid is first to spot the upturned Oldsmobile: "Dad!" And the guy tells him to run, run to the nearest house, and the boy pounds the dusty road as fast as he can. But that's why he's a fisherman, not a fixer man. Even before the body's brought up, Mary Jo is fading from the drama: She's no longer a flesh-and-blood human being, no longer "the girl"; she's just a problem, to be fixed - permanently. Ted returns to Hyannis Port for what he assumes will be a spot of afternoon tea with his dad, but, when the nurse motions him into the sitting room, he discovers a vast army of Camelot courtiers lined up behind the chintz sofa - Ted Sorensen, Sargent Shriver, and pre-eminently Bob McNamara, irresistibly conjured by Clancy Brown and smoothly transferring his talents from the Bay of Pigs to a bay with only one pig. Joe Kennedy's called in the heavyweights, A-list fixers who despise Ted's fixers as Z-list fixers.

This is a more sophisticated and blackly comic view of the nature of politics than, say, George Clooney's Ides of March. The acidic glamour of power corrodes even Mary Jo's fellow Boiler Room Girls. No sooner are they informed that their friend is dead than one of them steps forward to volunteer: "What can we do to help the Senator?" The ladies themselves, having kept their silence for half-a-century, are said to deny this version of events, and the words themselves are put in the mouth of a fictional Boiler Roomer created for the movie: "Rachel" (Olivia Thirlby). But, whatever their motivations, the actions of almost everyone in this tale facilitate the replacement of one victim by another: Edward M Kennedy.

Chappaquiddick is an excellent film that deserves to find an audience. John Curran tells his tale in a matter-of-fact semi-procedural style, punctuated by moments when Teddy seems to be, so to speak, floating dreamily through his own drama: At the height of the crisis, the camera alights on him flying a kite, blank-eyed and beaming and far away from dad's schemes of greatness. The film's visual language subtly underlines the journey he's on: the Edgartown scenes are bright and airy, all sun-dappled porches and spacious vistas, innocent and optimistic. Back at Hyannis Port, the sitting room is literally smoke-filled, the airless, darkened corridors and landings have turned their faces from the world, the better to construct an alternative reality and impose it on the actual facts. In Jason Clarke's performance, Teddy's self-doubt is his most (only?) human quality. But the aim of Joe's fixers is to get the last son to the point where he stops feeling conflicted and unsure, and understands that he's a Kennedy and that that trumps all. As I wrote way back when:
Ted's the star, and there's no room to namecheck the bit players. What befell him was a thing, a place. As Joan Vennochi wrote in The Boston Globe:
'Like all figures in history – and like those in the Bible, for that matter – Kennedy came with flaws. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.' 
Actually, Peter denied Jesus, rather than 'betrayed' him, but close enough for Catholic-lite Massachusetts. And if Moses having a temper never led him to leave some gal at the bottom of the Red Sea, well, let's face it, he doesn't have Ted's tremendous legislative legacy, does he?
As I mentioned the other day, that bit turns up in the new movie. Joan Vennochi's words are put in Ted's mouth: He says defensively that all men are flawed - "Moses had a temper, Peter betrayed Jesus." And my cheap riposte - "Moses didn't leave a girl at the bottom of the Red Sea" - is given to the outraged Joe Gargan, already on his way out, supplanted by better, colder, harder fixers. When the guy gets out and leaves the girl at the bottom of the sea, it offends the natural order: Joe is telling him he's not a man.

And Ted barely reacts: The angry words fall off him like water off a Chappaquiddick duck's back. Because human feeling is for humans. And he doesn't have to be a man; he's a Kennedy.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Film Review: 'The Death of Stalin'

“The Death of Stalin” Dares to Make Evil Funny

By Anthony Lane
March 19, 2018 Issue

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There is a scary moment, in “A Man for All Seasons” (1966), when Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) jumps ashore from a stately barge. His feet sink deep into the mud, up to the royal ankles. We get a closeup of the King as he looks around, jutting his ginger beard and seeking someone to blame for this indignity. His glare is as hot as a branding iron. Every lackey quails, expecting to be whipped, or worse. Then Henry laughs. The threat has passed, but, for an instant, we glimpsed both his temper and his power, and saw that they amount to the same thing. Now imagine a whole empire run along such lines. Imagine a movie where the moment never stops.

And so to “The Death of Stalin,” a startling new film from Armando Iannucci. The title does not lie. Less than twenty minutes into the movie, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) is found lying on a rug in his dacha, outside Moscow. It is March, 1953, and breakfast is ready, but the great leader has been felled by a stroke. Steeped in urine, he is soon surrounded by a small horde of henchmen from the Central Committee. First to arrive is Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Stalin’s fellow-Georgian and the head of the N.K.V.D., the security service, followed by Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor)—next in line to succeed Stalin, and dreadfully pale at the prospect—and Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), still wearing his pajamas under his suit. Then comes the rest of the gang, including Kaganovich (Dermot Crowley), Mikoyan (Paul Whitehouse), and Bulganin (Paul Chahidi). Notable by his absence is Molotov (Michael Palin), whose wife has been arrested. His own head could be on the block.

The problem, for all concerned, is the idea of a Stalin-free land. If they must jockey for his throne, which of them will be bold enough to start the fight, with their lord and master still breathing? What will happen if, by some miracle, he rallies and learns that certain underlings presumed to step into his unfillable shoes? Meanwhile, he needs the finest professional care, but regrettably most of the doctors in Moscow have been purged at Stalin’s command. (This is the sort of irony in which the movie delights, and it’s far from fanciful; an article inPravda, that year, had indeed denounced “assassins in white coats.”) The only medics still at liberty are dodderers and greenhorns; later, when Stalin’s son Vasily (Rupert Friend), a barely controllable drunk, gets to the dacha and confronts them, he is incensed. “You’re not even a person, you’re a testicle,” he shouts at one, and, at another, “You’re made mostly of hair.”

Vasily is too late, for his father has passed away. Not that death decreases his talent for terror. The hapless doctors are shipped off in a truck, presumably to their doom; they know too much. Stalin’s look-alikes, retained as a safeguard, are now expendable. Mourners, thronging to the capital, are shot on the streets. As for the Central Committee, it seethes with plots and counter-plots. When Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough), turns up at the dacha, Beria, Khrushchev, and the others run out of the woods, where they’ve been muttering in mini-factions, to press their condolences upon her. In the scrap for lamentation, everyone wants to be top dog.

If that sounds unseemly, just you wait. The dumbfounding thing about “The Death of Stalin” is that it’s a comedy—the broadest and often the bloodiest of farces. It is grossly neglectful of the basic decencies, cavalier toward historical facts, and toxically tasteless. No sooner do the characters stand on ceremony than the movie pushes them off. As Stalin lies in state, his ministerial minions furtively swap positions around the open casket, with one of them exclaiming, “Jesus Christ, it’s the bishops!” To be put in charge of the funeral arrangements, as Khrushchev is, means having to pick out curtains for the catafalque—ruched or non-ruched? You can feel Iannucci working his way through a list of insultables: the holy Church, the pride of the motherland, the need for grief. Not even Marshal Zhukov, the glorious veteran of the Second World War, whose stature remains untarnished today, is spared; Jason Isaacs plays him as a bully with a thick Yorkshire accent. Yet he’s the only man who shows not a shiver of cowardice, and nobody else has the nerve to stand up to Beria. As Zhukov says, “I fooked Germany. I think I can take a flesh lump in a fookin’ waistcoat.”

Let us look at the lump. Not all the actors in Iannucci’s film are at ease with his corrosive tone. Jeffrey Tambor, for example, seems a little uncertain as to how weak and uncertain Malenkov should be, though I liked his bumbling admission “I can’t remember who’s alive and who isn’t.” On the other hand, Simon Russell Beale, as Beria, gathers the story into his clutches and deploys his entire frame; portly though he is, with a creased roll of fat at the back of his neck, there is nothing warm or comforting about Beria’s bulk. He is more beetle than bear, scuttling to and fro with a devilish purpose that Kafka would have noted, and peering at the treasonable world through rimless pince-nez, the better to anatomize its sores and flaws. To inspect is to suspect.

How did Beale, a stalwart of the British theatre who has made a mere pocketful of films, achieve this suppurating portrait of malice? I first saw him onstage in 1990, when he played Thersites—no Shakespearean role is more flecked with spleen—in “Troilus and Cressida,” and latterly, in 2014, as a choleric King Lear, sliding into the cracks of early dementia. In the intervening years, his résumé has included a generous dose of brutes and creeps: Richard III, Iago, and Malvolio, whose parting shot, “I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you,” at the close of “Twelfth Night,” is echoed by Beria, in the new film, as his colleagues finally muster against him—“I have documents on all of you.”

In short, no actor has been more thoroughly trained in the stewing of slyness and bluster that we smell in Beria, who was as baneful a human as has ever breathed. (He was a serial rapist of young girls, but the film, thank heaven, chooses only to glance at that habit; picture someone so morally squalid that his pedophilia counts as a sideline.) When torture is required, he issues instructions with the relish of a gourmet ordering a meal: “Have his wife move into the next cell and start working on her until he talks. Make it noisy.” Or, “Shoot her before him, but make sure he sees it.” What the hell is there to laugh at, you may ask, in this sump of depravity? Should we be surprised that “The Death of Stalin” has been banned in Russia, where one Moscow cinema was raided and fined for screening it? Is it not, as a filmmaker there described it, “a tremendous abomination”?

Well, yes. The damnable problem, however, is that it’s funny; ten times funnier, by my reckoning, than it has any right to be, and more riddled with risk than anything that Iannucci has done before, because it dares to meet outrage with outrage. The hit TV shows that he created—first “The Thick of It,” in Britain, and then “Veep”—bristle with satirical zeal, but you do wonder, after a while, whether the everyday dysfunctions, enraging as they are, of an essentially functioning democracy are not too easy a bull’s-eye for his scorn. It’s hardly news, for instance, that the American Vice-Presidency is kind of a halfway job, and, when the worst that can befall a person is demotion, or an online roasting, how much is honestly at stake?

No such doubts attend “The Death of Stalin,” where every gag is girded with fear. The humor is so black that it might have been pumped out of the ground. To defend the film as accurate would be fruitless; the episode that kicks it off, in which a pianist, having played a Mozart concerto on the radio, is forced to reprise it at once because Stalin desires a recording, occurred in 1944 if it occurred at all, rather than—as here—on the eve of Stalin’s demise. Yet the compression of time is allowable, because the panic and the fawning dread that are instantly triggered by his name, in these opening scenes, ring all too true. Here is a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The question of how many million souls were extinguished either at Stalin’s bidding or as a result of his policies will never be settled. Documentaries can and should engage in that dispute, but no feature film, however sombre and responsible, could begin to dramatize such boundless suffering. Perhaps comedy, far from being disqualified for so unhappy a task, is the only genre that can tackle it. Behind “The Death of Stalin” stretches a long tradition of British grotesquerie, from James Gillray’s scabrous cartoons of Napoleon back to Christopher Marlowe’s two-part “Tamburlaine,” another litany of mass murder. As Beria pursues his sulfurous trade, you don’t know whether to weep, shriek, snigger, or look away, and what goes through your mind is not “This is exactly what happened, in 1953,” but “Yes, here is a man who could do such things. I wish I didn’t believe in him. But I do.” He is a monster for all seasons.

Anthony Lane has been a film critic for The New Yorker since 1993. He is the author of “Nobody’s Perfect.”