National Review editor Rich Lowry says that regardless of the Washington Post's opinion, Hillary Clinton's email affair won't go away:

It will remain with us, if for no other reason than that it is impossible for Hillary Clinton to be truthful about it. She is never going to admit that she wanted to hide her records in violation of the rules from legitimate press and congressional inquiries.

Does this mean everyone has finally figured out that state.gov email accounts are just as unclassified as email hosted on a private server? The fact that there's disagreement about whether State Department officials are careful enough with sensitive information has nothing to do with the fact that Clinton's email was hosted privately.

Instead we're all in on the idea that Clinton set up her email account on a private server in order to evade FOIA requests. There is no evidence of this at all. None. That doesn't mean it's not true, of course. It just means no one has ever produced anything other than "well, of course she did" as an argument.

That leaves us with general fact patterns rather than specific evidence one way or another. So let's take a look at those fact patterns. I covered this briefly last night, but it's worth doing it in a little more detail. There are two big things to look at:

  • Virtually all of Clinton's official emails were sent to people with state.gov addresses, which means they were retained on government servers. This is not—repeat not—a good reason to shrug our shoulders at Clinton's use of a private server. That's still fair game. Nevertheless, Clinton obviously knew that her emails to state.gov addresses would be retained, which means a private server offered no real protection against FOIA requests. The only real protection, as always, is to conduct business via telephone or face-to-face.
  • Clinton retained her emails for years after she left office and turned them over to State without complaint when she was asked. Then she wiped her server. If she were truly intent on evading the law, she would have deleted them after she left the State Department and just taken the hit for it.

If, despite this, you think Clinton was trying to evade FOIA, you're ascribing to both her and her staff (a) idiocy, (b) Nixonian levels of calculated corruption, and (c) a widespread conspiracy to aid in a scheme that could easily send them all to jail—not to mention the Platte River tech they supposedly suborned to delete her archives.

None of this makes any sense. Clinton's enemies, of course, are already convinced that she has the necessary level of malevolence to do all this. They've believed that without any real evidence for 25 years. But even they don't believe she's an idiot, and you'd truly have to be an idiot to try to evade FOIA requests this way. Someone who was truly malevolent and calculating and smart would do the simple and obvious thing: make sure her conniving staff was instructed to conduct all illegal business only over the phone. Easy peasy.

In the end, the only story that makes sense is a different one: Clinton was trying to protect her private emails. Those emails wouldn't be captured on state.gov servers. Those emails wouldn't be turned over to State. But having initially made the technically boneheaded decision to have only a single email account, she was stuck. The only way to protect her personal emails was to go through the laborious process of separating them out and then wiping them from the server and from all backups. But since everything was in one account, that meant wiping all the official emails too. More detail on that here.

Bottom line: In the end, the whole story about Clinton trying to evade FOIA or the Federal Records Act just doesn't make any sense.

The funny thing is that there's one thing about the whole episode that does bother me, but it doesn't get much attention. Clinton's initial decision to use one device and one account for all her emails was dumb but understandable. However, there had to be multiple people on her staff who realized it was dumb. This means that either her staffers were afraid to tell her this, or she ignored their advice. Either way, it doesn't speak well for her organization.

Today we learn just how easy it is to trick Donald Trump. Yesterday he was interviewed by Larry King on RT, a TV network funded by the Russian government. That's probably not a good look, especially for a candidate already viewed as alarmingly cozy with Vladimir Putin. So what happened?

Poor Donald. He used to be so sharp. Probably suffering from dysphasia or something.

The Washington Post writes today that the Hillary Clinton email story is "out of control":

Judging by the amount of time NBC's Matt Lauer spent pressing Hillary Clinton on her emails during Wednesday's national security presidential forum, one would think that her homebrew server was one of the most important issues facing the country this election. It is not.

…Ironically, even as the email issue consumed so much precious airtime, several pieces of news reported Wednesday should have taken some steam out of the story. First is a memo FBI Director James B. Comey sent to his staff…Second is the emergence of an email exchange between Ms. Clinton and former secretary of state Colin Powell…Last is a finding that 30 Benghazi-related emails that were recovered during the FBI email investigation and recently attracted big headlines had nothing significant in them…The story has vastly exceeded the boundaries of the facts.

Imagine how history would judge today's Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of…a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Ms. Clinton's wrongs and Mr. Trump's manifest unfitness for office.

I'm not quite sure how to take this. On the one hand, hasn't the Washington Post hyped the email story as much as anybody? On the other hand, even if they have, they still deserve credit for seeing the light.

The email story is one of the hardest kinds of stories for the press to handle appropriately. At the beginning of a story like this, it's impossible to know if there's something to it. Then the facts drip out slowly over the course of months as everyone chases leads. At some point it becomes clear that there's no there there, but reasonable people can disagree on when that point is. Personally, I'd date it from sometime between October last year, when Trey Gowdy's committee was unable to find anything even marginally corrupt during an 11-hour inquisition of Clinton, and July this year, when FBI Director James Comey made it clear that she had done nothing remotely serious enough to warrant prosecution.

But that's it. Since at least July we've basically known the contours of the entire affair. Clinton was foolish to use a single email account hosted on a personal server—which she's acknowledged—but that's it. Beyond that, it was an unclassified system and everyone treated it like one. The retroactively classified emails are more a spat between State and the intelligence community than anything else. Nor is there any evidence that Clinton was trying to evade FOIA by hosting her email on a private server. That would have been (a) deliberate and calculating deception on a Nixonian scale; (b) phenomenally stupid since nearly all of her emails were sent to state.gov addresses and were therefore accessible anyway; and (c) unusually half-assed since she retained the emails for years after she left office and turned them over as soon as State asked for them. Only an idiot would try to evade FOIA like this, and even her bitterest enemies don't think Hillary Clinton is an idiot.

Emailgate has been investigated and reported to death. Unless some genuine bombshell drops, further leaks should be treated as obvious partisan attacks, not news, and further production of emails should be noted briefly on page A17. Let's not turn this into another Whitewater.

And with that out of the way, can we now move on to the Clinton Foundation? It's been investigated to death as well, and the only thing we've learned is that Doug Band needs to shut his pie hole a little more often. Aside from that, literally every shred of evidence points to (a) appropriate behavior from Hillary Clinton and her staff; (b) Bill Clinton leveraging his fame to raise money for charity; and (c) billions of dollars spent on worthy causes. Beyond that, you might find Bill's personal moneymaking enterprises a little off-putting, but that's all. So how about if we give the Foundation a rest too?

I'm feeling overwhelmed. Everywhere I turn, I find yet another nugget that's hardly worth a blog post but nonetheless feels like a nutshell version of politics this year. So consider this post a time capsule. Someday you can show it to your grandkids to demonstrate how far off the rails our country went in 2016.

Reporters have been griping forever about Hillary Clinton not holding a press conference. She's been interviewed plenty of times by national reporters, but I guess that's not good enough. So over the past few days she's finally decided to open up more, and this morning she even held a full-fledged presser. Here is Chuck Todd's reaction:

Hillary just can't win, can she? Here's a headline from The Hill:

There are two ways you can take this. Option 1: By God, we are going to make this story about the emails no matter what. Option 2: It's a snarky acknowledgment of the fact that once they finally got their press conference, reporters didn't even bother asking about the very thing they've been obsessed with for months. My money is on #1.

Moving on, the latest idiot right-wing conspiracy meme, promoted by lunatic late night conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, is that Hillary Clinton was wearing an earpiece at the Commander-in-Chief forum last night. Donald Trump Jr. passed along the news:

Followed by a retweet of this:

That's right: the Republican candidate's campaign is now passing along psychotic delusions from Alex Jones. Before long they'll be channeling the ghost of Rasputin. Meanwhile, at last night's forum Trump insisted that in his recent intelligence briefing he learned that President Obama had blown off the intelligence community. "I have pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending." This is a pretty outrageous breach of what's supposed to be a classified briefing, and it's also a lie. Intelligence professionals agree pretty unanimously that no briefer would ever do such a thing.

But did Trump really lie? Last night I used Trump as a flimsy excuse to name check famed physicist Wolfgang Pauli, so today I'll use Trump as an equally flimsy excuse to bring up famed mathematician Kurt Gödel. In 1931 Gödel proved that in all mathematical systems1 there are true statements that are unprovable. Paul Waldman says that's our problem with Trump. He uses Trump's claim to have a secret plan to crush ISIS as an example:

Here’s the problem this presents. What he’s saying is so transparently phony that it just boggles the mind, yet you can’t do an “objective” fact-check on whether Trump has a secret plan to defeat the Islamic State, because you can’t prove that he doesn’t. But he doesn’t.

....Now let me point to a second exchange in the forum, when Lauer asked about the intelligence briefing Trump received....Just as with his secret ISIS plan, I can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump is lying here, but he’s lying. If the briefers told him “what our experts said to do,” it would be unprecedented. And the idea that they communicated with their “body language” that they are unhappy with the administration’s decisions? Please.

We could call this Trump's Incompleteness Theorem: In all political campaigns, there are false statements that are unfalsifiable. Literally everyone knows that Trump is bullshitting, but the rules of the game don't allow anyone to say so.

In other news, Wells Fargo was fined $185 million because it opened 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards—without telling the customers involved it had done so. That is not a typo. They opened fake accounts and applied for fake credit cards. This outrageous scam was uncovered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Trump wants to eliminate. In fact, the entire Republican Party wants to eliminate it. They think it's too tough on banks.

Finally, today is the 50th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek in 1966. Normally, this wouldn't be something I'd mention in a political blog, but the episode titled "Mirror, Mirror" is surprisingly apropos of this year's presidential campaign. Whenever someone asks what's going on, just say, "We're in the Spock-with-a-beard universe." That should be enough.

1Technically, his theorem applies only to mathematical systems complex enough to describe the natural numbers. In other words, every mathematical system we actually care about.

IAEA: Iran Not Cheating on Nuclear Deal

I know nobody cares about this, and I apologize in advance for burdening you with actual information. So I'll keep it short:

Iran has kept to a nuclear deal it agreed with six world powers last year limiting its stockpiles of substances that could be used to make atomic weapons, a report by the U.N. nuclear agency found.

The confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seen by Reuters did not point to any violations in Tehran's observance of the deal which was opposed by hardliners inside Iran and by skeptics in the West.

I guess you can click on the link if you want more details. But why would you? It's all so boring, after all.

Tell Us How You Really Feel, Kevin

Here are three recent takes on Donald Trump. First, Jonathan Chait:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking....Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Here's Matt Yglesias:

What Donald Trump said at Wednesday night’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on the aircraft carrier was shocking. He specifically defended Vladimir Putin as superior to Barack Obama, suggested women serving in the military should expect to be raped, hinted at a political purge of the officer corps, blatantly lied about his own past statements on Iraq and Libya, and called on the American military to commit war crimes.

....But this isn’t a media story. It’s a Trump story. And it’s about whether we, and the American public, are willing to stay shocked. We’re used to Trump’s lying and his nonsense because we’ve been hearing it for a long time. But it’s not normal.

And finally, for the win, here is Nancy LeTourneau:

Every now and then I have a “moment.” It tends to come when I realize that the Republican Party of the United States of American has nominated a guy to lead the most powerful nation on the planet who talks like this.

When those moments hit, I literally get speechless. I subsequently see headlines that talk about how the polls are narrowing or about pundits trying to suss out what a President Trump would REALLY do on immigration and imagine that I must have fallen into some worm hole in which an alternate reality exists simply to mock us.

This can’t really be happening, can it?

LeTourneau's reaction is precisely mine. Sure, I can churn out blog posts about Trump that are alternatively snarky, shocked, analytical, etc. And God knows, millions of words have been spilled trying to explain the guy. But on the occasions when I stop to really think about this election, my mind goes sort of fugue-like. My mental state is something like this:

What the fuck is going on? Donald Trump! Donald fucking Trump! He's a jackass reality TV star. He's goddamn clueless. For fuck's sake, this can't be happening. Can it? Fucking fuck. Why isn't anyone calling it out? It's like Alice in fucking Wonderland. How can we be doing this? Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

I guess you can see why I don't generally share these moments with you—though I shouldn't really call them moments. This internal narrative is pretty much in my head every time I write a post about Trump. I just suppress it in order to get some G-rated words onto the blog.

I have a feeling Nancy and I are far from alone in feeling this way. And it's a first. I obviously haven't been a fan of any of the GOP's recent presidential candidates, but I've never felt this way before. We are well and truly down the rabbit hole.

The Long-Awaited Trump Pivot Is Here

National Review editor Rich Lowry captures my deepest fear:

There was a lot of skepticism about Trump’s latest purported pivot when he made Kellyanne Conway his campaign manager last month, but he has indeed pivoted. He is always going to be the same guy with the same idiosyncratic cluster of views — e.g., taking Iraq’s oil — but his campaign has done much more to get him in settings where he isn’t shouting, and that can only help him. Mexico City, Detroit, the Virginia Beach vets forum, his national security speech are all examples of non-rally events where he is not red-faced and yelling. The rallies have to be very alluring to Trump — gatherings of thousands of people where he can have a hell of time providing the entertainment. But they reinforce what is worst about his image for the new voters he has to try to reach.

Trump's biggest liability is that he goes on TV constantly and acts like a crazy man. That appeals to some people, but it turns off a lot more. As long as he keeps doing this, the folks who don't want a crazy man in the White House will vote for someone else.

But a lot of voters have very short memories. It's always been true that if Trump can manage to act relatively sane for a mere few weeks, that would be plenty of time for a chunk of credulous voters, pundits, and hacks to decide that he's turned over a new leaf and wouldn't be a crazy man after all. So far—knock on wood—the remarkable thing is that Trump hasn't been able to do this for even a few days, let alone a few weeks. And yet, he still could.

The biggest flashpoint in Syria right now is the city of Aleppo, where rebels and regime forces have been fighting for years and have all but destroyed the city. Whichever side eventually wins has a decent chance of going on to win the Syrian civil war. But today, when asked a question about Aleppo, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson said he didn't know what Aleppo was. Oops.

Still, it could be worse:

Gary, you're forgiven.

Here is David Lauter in the LA Times this morning:

In this election season of discontent, a lot of voters are having trouble committing. Around 1 in 5 voters nationwide report themselves as undecided or flirting with third-party candidates, with the exact share depending on the poll and how the question is asked.

That’s far higher than in the past several elections, where fewer than 1 in 10 voters were still up in the air at this point, and reflects the distaste that large numbers of voters have for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump....“I’m just lost,” Joanna Gianforcaro, 26, said on a recent afternoon as she sat with her mother at a farmers market in Doylestown, Pa., a swing area in a potentially important battleground state.

Is this really true? Barely. If you compare apples to apples by using Pollster aggregates for both 2012 and 2016, you find that as of September 8, the undecided vote is 7.5 percent this year vs. 5.2 percent in 2012. This is not really a noteworthy difference, but it drives the framing for the rest of the story. Very strange. There's more than enough stuff to write about this election without having to resort to made-up stats like this.

Lol.

Here's some background: