What did the President know, and when did he Know it?

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Below is a nice video from Move On Dot Org, as well as a link to a petition of theirs.

I would like to take this opportunity to caution everyone who is trying to figure out what is going on in the White House to avoid being misled by confusion, ignorance, or intentional misdirection. I have five points.

1) Be prepared to hold multiple competing hypothesis in mind at once. I promise you this: Whatever you think now, or come to realize over the coming months, is not a good historical description of what happened (or is happening). We can look back to Watergate to understand this. For Watergate, many, perhaps most, of the relevant conversations among the co conspirators were actually recorded and we can listen to them today. Many years after the event, a detailed description of actions, motivations, effects, etc. could be put down by historians. At the time the scandal was breaking, and the government was crumbling under the weight of the Nixon administration’s nefarious activities, no two people had the same theory of what was happening, and no one individual was as correct in their thinking as someone today who carefully studies the issue could be.

2) Eschew Occam’s razor, or at least, understand it and do not misuse it. It is almost never the case that in the affairs of humans the simplest explanation is the most likely to be correct. Given two incorrect explanations, the one that is simpler will have the smallest number of things wrong with it, but that is of little consolation if they are both wrong. (The real use of occam’s razor is to develop a testable hypothesis, not to find truth. So, you don’t have to give up the precious Occam’s razor. You just have to not use it to find truth, because that is not what it does.)

3) Recognize the fact that multiple different explanations may be based on very different premises that might not be compatible. For example, consider these two alternatives:

a) Flynn was on the phone with the Russians in order to convey information from Trump to Putin about sanctions.


b) Flynn was on the phone with the Russians in order to get orders from Putin, to convey those orders to Trump.

Both are extreme examples of Treason. Either could be true. Both may be wrong. But they are not likely both true, and in fact represent extemely different models of what is happening. So, pairs of explanations or descriptions of what is going on in the White House may not be compatible with each other if they each fall into a different presumptive model.

4) Ignore this meme, which is spreading: “The coverup is worse than the crime.”

Prosecutors will follow the Al Capone model every time. They will try to get the bad guy using any method that works (in the case of the murdering crime boss Capone, it was tax evasion), and they will avoid using methods that have even a modest chance of failure. This is one of the most under-appreciated yet critically and centrally important aspects of our criminal justice system. Think about it for a moment. You will understand so much more of what happens if you grok this, and to grok this you must ignore the mainstream media because they do not grok it even though they see it every day.

The press is fond of saying “the cover up is greater than the crime.” Sometimes that is true, but we really are more concerned with cases where the crime is more important than the normal human reaction to pretend you didn’t do it.

For example, if Flynn really was conspiring with the Russians, on behalf of Trump, to determine executive action that would benefit a foreign power because the foreign power is paying for that benefit, or has blackmail material to force it, than the worst possible form of treason occurred short of a treasonous event that kills Americans. A prosecutor may never be able to prove that in court sufficiently to get a conviction, or even make an indictment along these lines. But a prosecutor might very well be able to prove that evidence was tampered with or a federal investigator, or Congress, was lied to.

Let me underscore a key point too easily lost: Even if a prosecutor feels there is an 80% chance of getting a conviction on a higher level crime, they won’t go to court over it. They’ll settle for less or focus on the nearly 100% winnable lesser crime. So, even if all reasonable observers can walk away concluding, fairly, that the higher level crime happened, it may not ever be charged because of this self regulation by prosectors.

In the Watergate scandal, the cover up was extensive, bizarre, illegal, and winnable in court and ultimately led to jail time and fines. The Attorney General served 19 months for perjury, obstruction, and conspiracy. The President’s Chief of Staff served 19 months for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. A Chief political council pleaded nolo contendre to obstruction.

So, they lied and stood in the way of the investigation. That was the cover up, that’s what they got nailed for. But, is that what they did?

No, of course not. It is what they did after they did what they did. The big cheeses were never convicted for what they did.

What they did was to hack the election in order to win the presidency. Just like what happened this year, but instead of computer hacking and propaganda, they did it with a break-in and wire taps. And, apparently, the Russians were not involved with Watergate.

Putting this another way, the Watergate conspirators attempted, and perhaps succeed, in circumventing the Democratic process and putting their own guy in power. Then they tried to cover that up. Prosecutors were in the main only able to indict and convict over the cover up. That does not mean that these men’s attempt to overthrow the government was not worse than was the crime of pretending they didn’t.

5) Perhaps a pedantic point, but when you hear the phrase “What did he know and when did he know it” don’t assume this was a brilliant rhetorical device designed to take down Richard Nixon. It was exactly the opposite. It was a little like they were going for Occam’s Razor and ended up with a two-edged sword!

For those who don’t recognize the phrase I use in the title of this post, and that is used in the video below: Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee said it first. He asked the question of Nixon’s knowledge of the Watergate break in during the Congressional investigation.

Ironically, Baker had assumed (based in a private conversation with Nixon, most likely) that Nixon either didn’t know about the break in and cover up, or could credibly claim he didn’t know. Baker was trying to protect the president. This is what he was thinking:

Baker: What did President Nixon know, and when did he know it?

Everybody else and the evidence: He knew nothing, and when he knew something, it was way later, after, like, now, or even never.

Baker: Well, OK, then, Nixon is innocent, let’s toss these other guys under the bus and move on with our Republican War to Gain Total Power, OK?

What really happened:

Baker: What did President Nixon know, and when did he know it?

Everybody else and the evidence: He knew all along and helped develop plans for the cover up itself. He was as deep in this as shit in an outhouse.

Baker: Ooops, I can’t believe I asked that.

Here is the petition.

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45 thoughts on “What did the President know, and when did he Know it?

  1. Good advice Greg.

    One good thing we have is that there is a transcript of the call between Flynn and the Russian embassy.

    So there are people who know exactly what was said.

    Of course, that won’t allow us to read minds – but it should be very helpful.

  2. “One good thing we have is that there is a transcript of the call between Flynn and the Russian embassy.”

    Not according to Tiny Hands. He’s LIVID that this “illegal” leak is leaked to the fake press for their fake claims about it.

    You really ARE 100% straight-A moron, aren’t you, dick.

  3. Funny how Cheeto Benito can call the leaked revelations “fake news”, then cry about it also being illegal leaking of intelligence information.

    Which is it?

    Or is he saying that what passes for “intelligence” in his regime is actually all fake to start with?

    The only other conclusion is that Trump is.. is.. (brace yourselves) lying.


  4. Brainstorms, see the Daily Show indicate this hypocrisy here and elsewhere with the liar liar brigade:


  5. Haven’t you heard? Republicans should not be investigating Republicans – it isn’t productive. (From the incredibly stupid and always dishonest Rand Paul.)

  6. That would make it twice treason. Since death is still on the cards for treason, they’ll kill him twice, I suppose.

    But if it was under Orangina’s orders, then that’s treason from the Citizen Without Hands. Which means execution for him too.

    The skin, though, is probably fireproof by now.

    Or highly explosive.

    Stand well back either way.

  7. >Flynn was on the phone with the Russians in order to convey information from Trump to Putin about sanctions.

    How is this treason? Obama had backchannels to Iran during his campaign to discuss their sanctions. Does that count too?

  8. Uh, it’s undermining the president of the USA.

    Might as well ask what is treasonous to look at data you’re signed up for and carry it to russia…

  9. What they did was to hack the election in order to win the presidency.

    I read somewhere (but can’t remember where) that Nixon would probably have won the election anyway. So not only was the scandal illegal, it was unnecessary.

  10. MikeN

    How is this treason?

    Shall we substitute sedition then?

    And let’s not forget that Flynn was not then a government official. So what he did was certainly illegal.

  11. We need to find a graceful way for Donald to leave office. Maybe throw him a party as the greatest, hugests president ever, then give him a way to move on, but somehow save face. Maybe make it clear that he is TOO great, TOO huge, to be squandering his giga talents as the mere leader of the free world, besides which, the pay stinks, the restrictions are suffocating, and besides, does he REALLY want to advocate for other people’s freedom?. Maybe we can use something similar to the strategy that was used to remove Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist when he needed a nudge to retire. I read somewhere that somebody inflated the importance of a committee to celebrate the anniversary of the constitution, and then asked him to chair it. He fell for it. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is said to have commented when he retired something to the effect that “ Well, the dummy is gone.”

    This alternate trump headed reality we have fallen into would be amusing if it weren’t real. Trump seems to want to emulate Putin, and seems to think that he can be king of the world. Hopefully the intelligence community is working, behind the scenes, as we write, to trick him into reaching far enough for that tempting crown that he can be easily toppled. Maybe he has already reached for it and has started the down ward trajectory.

    He has got to go.

  12. Hopefully the intelligence community is working, behind the scenes, as we write, to trick him into reaching far enough for that tempting crown that he can be easily toppled.

    Antagonising the ‘intelligence community’ (makes it sound so cosy, doesn’t it?) was the stupidest thing the Donald has done*. The spooks are a true power in the land and now they will undermine him like nothing else could. He will rue the day.

    * I know, I know; the list is long, but even so.

  13. BBD #22:

    Personally I doubt they will “undermine him like nothing else could”.

    They are professionals and they will continue to gather intelligence and pass it along to the administration.

    Sure – some of the don’t like the President and maybe some have leaked (although who knows – the leaks could have come from those briefed by intelligence).

    I put this into the pile of wishful thinking.

  14. Related: I’ve been thinking about the train wreck that was yesterday’s “press conference”.

    I’m beginning to think that the 70 some minutes of blatant lies and false assertions aren’t the result of an idiot (although they were delivered by one), but that the entire affair was carefully planned. The immediate fact-checking that showed everything said was untrue won’t matter to the assholes who support the president (evidenced by the two supporters here, and by the guy where I get coffee mornings before I head to the woods to walk my dog: this guy said “Well, you know, we really don’t know the Electoral College numbers from other elections, so there’s a good chance President Trump’s statement was true.”). What they can be used for is more of the usual “See, the liberal media is always taking what we say and distorting and lying about it. We’ve got to be strong to fight the evil Left.” The scum who voted for Trump will eat it up, and the folks who were simply ignorant and believed there was no difference between Hillary and Trump and voted for him will just go on being ignorant and not caring.

  15. The press just have to start off with getting “How much bullshit are you going to speak now?” and stop trying to pretend that this is a sane and rational gibbon in front of them.

    Don’t wait until you get back to the studio to go “WTF??”, just stand up there and go “Wasn’t what you said to my colleague just then a load of fake news?” And keep doing it in a chain. “No, really, your response to my previous colleague’s follow up was totally moronic, do you think you can get an adult out to field questions?”.

    The “downside” may be not being invited back, but so what? When you’re invited there, unless you say what Orangina wants, you’re going to get shushed, told STFU, and berated as a bad and corrupt fake news.

    This moron is playing on the “Hard man, straight talker”, so do it right back. Just flat-out say “Yeah, but you’re talking a load of bollocks, mate. Get a grown up out here, please.” And just stand up to make your piece if you’re slandered by the POStus. Make your actions the news for other reporters to report on. Stop letting the LFSG piss-artist make all the ridiculous and inflammatory statements. Beat him to the punch.

  16. RickA

    Personally I doubt they will “undermine him like nothing else could”.

    As you are so fond of saying, although with less justification, we shall see.

  17. SteveP, all you have to do is hold a rally declaring that Trump has Made America Great Again, and he will leave MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Instead people hold resistance marches and give him an enemy to fight.

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