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14 January 2021


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Diana Croissant

Please excuse my ignorance which will be apparent by my posting this question: Does the President have any authority to fire the directors of the CIA or the FBI?

I grew up in the generation that was reading books like Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 (among others that portrayed all powerful and evil agencies of governments). So, I have always wondered if there was a restriction on the President's authority to fire the heads of some of these agencies.

Could Trump have fired Brennan or Clapper and replaced them with other people?

It had always seemed to me that Obama USED these men for his purposes, though my feelings were not based on any knowledge of how things work there in she Swamp. I just know that over the years I kept wondering why those men still had their positions when they obviously did not like American citizens.

As a citizen working hard to make a living during my life before retirement, I worked a full-time job and held two part-time jobs to make a living in an attempt to make things easier for my two sons. I really had no time to spend really digging into these questions. It was hard enough dealing with "city hall."

I know this blog is followed mostly by people who do have experience with the Federal Government and that my question shows my ignorance. Most of us here in the hourly and salaried workforce don't really have time to research these questions and have to trust the system we had been taught would stand up for individuals' protection and for their rights.


Diana Croissant

The president has absolute power to remove anyone in the Executive Branch from his or her position for any reason or no reason at all.

David Habakkuk


Good to see Ty Clevenger’s persistence and ingenuity is yielding increasing results.

In his new 'Lawflog' post, he writes that:

‘You may recall from my December 9, 2020 post that former Attorney General Bill Barr and Special Counsel John Durham steadfastly refused to consider any information about Seth Rich. The whole subject was arbitrarily off limits, and I’m increasingly convinced that’s because Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham were double agents. They convinced President Trump that they were aggressively pursuing the “Russian collusion” hoax, but in reality they were just running out the clock.’

It does indeed rather seem that those who thought AG Barr was animated by a deep respect for the Constitution of the United States need reminding of the old W.C.Fields adage: ‘Never give a sucker an even break.’

A lot of questions arise from the most recent developments, but one which is preoccupying me is this.

Describing what does definitely look to be part of a ‘delaying action’, Clevenger quotes from a filing by the FBI and DOJ on 16 December: ‘FBI is also currently working on getting the files from Seth Rich’s personal laptop into a format to be reviewed. There are thousands of files of many types.’

And he notes the obvious tension with a filing just submitted:

‘In an effort to buy more time in Brian Huddleston v. FBI, et al., the FBI disclosed in an email and court filing today that it does not have any reports about the Seth Rich laptop or its contents, only a “302 form” produced at the time the laptop was received.’

But this is not actually quite what they say. From the latter:

‘First, in response to Plaintiff’s emphasis on any report(s) regarding Seth Rich’s personal computer, the FBI acknowledges that they have located a 302 (interview form) stating that the laptop was given to the FBI, but thus far have located no report of it being analyzed by the FBI.’

The actual formulation leaves open the possibility that, somewhere down the line, a ‘report’ or ‘reports’ may be discovered.

And there is another point: why only one laptop?

In the ‘First Amended Complaint’ which Clevenger submitted on behalf of the ‘Transparency Initiative’, of which he is 'Executive Director’ in its suit against the DOJ and a lot of other people on 7 July last year, to which he links in the new post, it was made clear that he has been looking for:

'All data downloaded from all electronic devices that belonged to Seth Rich as well as all data, documents, records or communications indicating how the devices were obtained and who was responsible for downloading the information.'

Suppose I was Seth Rich, contemplating downloading masses of highly incriminating material from the DNC, and negotiating with ‘Wikileaks’ about transferring it to them.

Would I really be leaving evidence of what I was doing on the same machine that I took to and fro from the premises each day?

But then, it may be worth looking more closely at the excerpt from one of Michael Isikoff’s ‘podcasts' which Clevenger included in a document submitted in his own case against the DOJ back in October 2019.

(For this, see item 44 on the ‘Courtlistener’ entry for ‘Clevenger v. U.S. Department of Justice’, at
https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/6775665/clevenger-v-us-department-of-justice/ )

This featured what appeared to be a most interesting admission from Deborah Sines, the former assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Seth Rich case.

It came in her account of her response to the ‘Fox News’ report by Malia Zimmerman, which threw the ‘cat among the pigeons’ in relation to the question of whether Seth Rich was the source of the materials published by ‘Wikileaks’, and whether his being so was related to his murder.

A key passage:

‘Isikoff: “As soon as she heard the [Fox News] story, Sines reached out to the FBI.”
‘Sines: “Of course I did. Of course I did.”
‘Isikoff: “And what did they tell you?”
‘Sines: “No.”
‘Isikoff: “No.”
‘Sines: “No. No connection between Seth and Wikileaks. And there was no evidence on
his work computer of him downloading and disseminating things from the DNC.”
‘Isikoff: “As it turned out, there was one sliver of truth in the Fox story. The FBI had
been examining Seth's computer, not for any ties to the DNC emails or Wikileaks, but
because they saw unusual activity by a foreign hacker after his death.”

But, for God’s sake, to refer to someone’s ‘work computer’ implies that they may have a ‘home computer.’

(Does Isikoff think that we are all such ‘suckers’ that none of us will notice a transition from a formulation that implies that there could have been more than one ‘device’ at issue, to another which implies that there definitely was not?

If one does, of course, one may be disposed to ask whether Ms. Sines was ‘hedging her bets’?)

A hardly implausible scenario – made even more so by the CIA’s lavish use of the ‘Glomar’ response - is that after Rich’s death it was judged that sooner or later a laptop might have to be produced.

Accordingly, the one which contained no incriminating material had ‘evidence’ supposed to establish that a ‘foreign hacker’ had attempted to tamper with it planted.

If that was the case, then another stratagem might be – with suitable delays – to release a vast amount of material from this laptop, and even perhaps a report or so on it, both of which would, of course, contain nothing to do with the downloading of material and its transfer to ‘Wikileaks.’

And it could then be claimed that the fact that the report had gone ‘AWOL’ simply reflected the fact that it had contained nothing of importance.


Why did Samatha Powers get away with unmasking hundreds of US citizens in the 11th hour of the Obama administration, when as Obama's UN Ambassador there was no obvious need to know this information about US citizens at this late hour?

Will this unsolved mystery come up in any confirmation hearings? She claims she had no idea who made these requests "in her name". Who did it then "in her name". Will the Durham report finally give us answers?


Trump can declassify to his little heart's desire.
BUT, will the deep state actually release the documents.
They actively resisted and sabotaged a serving POTUS in office, why would they listen to a lame duck?


Amplifying the prior statement, the President not only has, but should have the power to remove anyone in the Executive Branch, since the President is the sole elected official, and ultimately responsive to the voters. Government bureaucrats are not.

Which underscores the growing power by sheer numbers of the "deep state" - unelected government bureaucrats seizing unelected regulatory power over out lives.

Chills ran through me today hearing Biden promise to create zero unemployment using tax dollar "stimulus" dollars to create even more government jobs. All of which of course will be dues-paying, public sector union jobs, stuffing the Democrat campaign coffers with even more cash.. Our cash, the biggest wealth transfer of private money into partisan third party hands.

How much permanent damage can the Democrat majority pull off in the next two years? All you Trump bashers, the only line of defense that remains right now are the Trump judicial appointees who hopefully can rein in these excesses. The recent SCOTUS ruling, Janus vs AFSCME, banning "closed shop" and mandatory public sector union membership is in peril.

This was a problem with the recently created, and Elizabeth Warren endorsed, Director of the Consumer Protection Review Board. This position was created to be exempt from POTUS removal, and I believe this plenipotentiary provision was stricken when it was finally contested. (Fact check?)


TV, sounds like there is a physical stack of declassified papers - over a foot high.

i assume they can be found on someone's dining room table, which would qualify as a constructive release. Or a mis-directed packing box on their way to Mar-A-Lago. Just part of the President's personal artifacts right now. Much like his stuffed pheasant and bust of Lincoln.

If Nancy Pelosi can tear up government property (SOTU address) in full public view with no consequences, what keeps the President from doing what he wishes with this "government property"?

The Twisted Genius

Speaking of Butowsky and Couch, they both issued statements this week in what appears to be part of a judgement/settlement of a case brought against them by Aaron Rich.

On Thursday, Ed Butowsky and Matt Couch announced that they were retracting all claims they had made about Aaron [Rich] related to WikiLeaks and the 2016 DNC hack. “I never had physical proof to back up any such statements or suggestions, which I now acknowledge I should not have made,” Butowsky said in a statement. He went on to retract and apologize for “any statement I have made asserting or implying that Aaron Rich downloaded or transferred DNC emails to WikiLeaks or received payment in exchange. I take full responsibility for my comments and I apologize for any pain I have caused.”


Couch issued a similar statement. I also looked at the transcript of the court deposition of Seymour Hersh from July of last year. The thing goes on forever and it shows what a supreme skeptic and sharp investigator he is. He's slippery, too. What I gather from the deposition is that Hersh heard something from somebody who may have seen a report concerning the murder of Seth Rich. He's not convinced it is true or false. That's what he relayed to Butowsky in that recorded phone call. So we're left with rumors about what, if anything, Rich did with the DNC emails and Wikileaks and how he died. I've seen nothing that rules out Rich's possible involvement with the DNC emails. He could very well have taken them and given them to Wikileaks. If so, that wouldn't disprove the Russian theft of the DNC files. I've seen multiple thieves going after the same information on several occasions.


Trump can declassify to his little heart's desire.
BUT, will the deep state actually release the documents.

sounds like there is a physical stack of declassified papers - over a foot high.

i assume they can be found on someone's dining room table, which would qualify as a constructive release. Or a mis-directed packing box on their way to Mar-A-Lago

The NSA probably has carbon copies of everyone's emails, even on SIPRnet. The NSA, if loyal to President Trump, could release the carbon copies without the cooperation of the DOJ, the FBI, etc.

It sure would be surprising if a BitTorrent server suddenly had a big file of declassified documents, uploaded by an unknown network technician.

David Habakkuk


When I posted my previous comment, I had seen Butowsky’s ‘tweets’, but not had time to check out the background.

A quite quick check on the ‘Courtlistener site’ revealed that the concession you quote was part of a coordinated and mutually agreed settlement of all the cases in which he became involved arising out of his attempts to help the Rich family. (No good deed goes unpunished!)

In relation to the cases Butowsky had himself brought against those who defamed him, that of the case against Douglas Wigdor et al was on 21 October, that against David Folkenflik et al on 29 October, and that against Michael Gottlieb et al on 2 November.

As to the cases brought against Butowsky, that brought by Aaron Rich, in which his co-defendant was Matt Couch, was dismissed on 24 November. The settlement of the case brought by Joel and Mary Rich, in which the defendants, as well as Butowsky, were Fox News and Malia Zimmerman, was on 2 December.

As to the background to these settlements, had you taken the trouble to follow the posts on Ty Clevenger’s ‘Lawflog’ site, you would be aware that on 9 December – that is, when the lawsuits had all been safely ‘put to bed’ – the FBI finally conceded that it had been lying and concealing evidence.

So, Clevenger informs us:

‘After three years of claiming that it could not find any records about murdered Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich, the FBI admitted today that it has thousands of pages of information about him, further admitting that it has custody of his laptop.’

(See https://lawflog.com/?p=2410 .)

Also rather relevant is Clevenger’s account of the background to the settlements:

‘I repeatedly encouraged Fox’s attorneys to postpone settlement discussions with Seth Rich’s parents until I obtained the FBI records (my client, Ed Butowsky, was a co-defendant with Fox), but Fox was hellbent on settling the case in October / November. That’s around the time Rupert Murdoch publicly joined forces with Joe Biden. Fox had a very strong defense, yet it rolled over and played dead, settling the lawsuit and then firing Ms. Zimmerman. Sooner or later, the full story will come out, and it will be very ugly for Fox News and the Murdoch family.’

So, what you are trying to portray as an admission by Ed Butowsky that he was seriously wrong may actually be rather better understood as a concession of an honest and brave man – who has also, among other things, been battling with very serious health problems – in the face of a ‘stab in the back’ from Rupert Murdoch.

He deserves better, I think.

As to ‘Fox News’, Rupert Murdoch and his family were simply behaving like the ‘swamp creatures’ they always have been.

Let us then look at how the passage you quote reads, if one has taken the trouble to acquire some elementary understanding of the background.

At the time he wrote it, Butowsky found himself facing the the prospect of having to fight on, after the notion that ‘Fox News’ would be on his side against the rest of the – thoroughly corrupt – ‘Mainstream Media’ had proved empty.

And this hardly led to any kind of comprehensive ‘climbdown.’

What all the settlements have in common was that they were agreed by the contending parties beforehand, that they were ‘with prejudice’ - meaning that the lawsuits cannot be resumed, and that each side would be responsible for the totality of the costs they had incurred.

Also relevant here are some rather elementary considerations relating to defamation actions. Of these, I have some experience, as I was once involved – successfully, I hasten to add – in a quite protracted lawsuit in relation to a programme I had made.

Precise wordings matter, in affairs like these. Let us look again at those Butowsky chose:

‘I never had physical proof to back up any such statements, which I now acknowledge that I should not have made. Accordingly, I now retract and apologize for any statement I have made asserting or implying that Aaron Rich (bold in original) downloaded or transferred DNC emails to WikiLeaks or received payment in exchange.’

Of course Butowsky did not have ‘physical evidence.’ If such a thing does exist in relation to any transfers by Seth Rich or anyone else, it would be in ‘electronic devices’ which were used: which have been one of the things Clevenger has been trying to access.

What normally happens in trying to uncover secrets which corrupt, and frightened, people in positions of power are trying to suppress is that quite a few people will tell one things confidentially, but only on the understanding that nothing can be traced to them.

With perseverance, and a modicum of luck, it may be possible to use what one is told to uncover evidence that can be presented in court.

In this case, the perseverance of Ty Clevenger has at least secured the admission that the FBI have a laptop – too late, however, to be relevant to any of these actions.

As I noted in my earlier comment, it seems to me highly likely that the admissions have been made to date are partly of a carefully calculated strategy, to ensure that it appears that relevant ‘physical evidence’ appears to be produced, whereas in fact it is either being kept hidden, or has been destroyed.

A central point of the letter which Clevenger sent to Messrs Barr, Durham and Horowitz on 12 October – to which he links in the post to which which I have referred – is that he feared that the settlement then in process would lead to evidence highly relevant to the ‘Russian collusion’ investigation being destroyed.

(Precisely the lack of response to this letter underlines its very great importance. Anyone at all interested in seeing the truth about ‘Russiagate’ revealed, should read it. The direct link is at

https://lawflog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/2020.10.12-Letter-to-Barr-Durham-redacted-v.1.pdf .)

The lack of interest of Barr, Durham, and Horowitz, I think, adds further to the already very good reasons to that just about the last thing any of the three ever wanted was to run any risk of ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ about ‘Russiagate’ being revealed.

I do not think that people with any pretensions to a sense of ‘honour’ should collude in the activities of such ‘swamp creatures’ by misrepresenting critical pieces of evidence, such as the concession Ed Butowsky has been forced into making.

David Habakkuk


Apologies. I confused two separate issues.

What ‘with prejudice’ means is that the lawsuits are now dead, with no hope of ‘resurrection’ – ‘kaputt’, is the Germans say.

The agreements that, in all of these cases, each contestant should pay all of their costs is separate.

However, that is part of the point.

Again, it does help to have some direct experience of how defamation suits work.

If the ‘motion to dismiss’ submitted by Butowsky in the case brought against him by Aaron Rich, had been an acknowledgement that his original claims were BS, then, rather obvious, at the absolute minimum, the ‘plaintiff’ – Seth Rich’s brother – would have insisted that his costs were paid in full.

So, the natural interpretation of this settlement is that it was only possible because those who had accused Butowsky knew – were implicitly conceding – that they did not have ‘truth’ on their side.

However, they had ‘money’ and ‘power’.

And, after the Murdochs had, as Rupert has done before, seen ‘the way the wind was blowing’, the ‘power’ and ‘money’ was such that Butowsky had to ‘accommodate.’

You have chosen to side with ‘money’ and ‘power’.

Perhaps you can live with yourself. I couldn’t, in your shoes.

The Twisted Genius

David Habakkuk,

Seth Rich’s parents also sued Butowsky and Fox News. That lawsuit ended with a settlement including a seven figure payment along with the Fox News retraction. The money and power was surely on the side of Fox News in that case. I’m sure that figured into Butowsky’s and Couch’s decision to reach a settlement in the Aaron Rich lawsuit that included those retractions. I have no doubt they were insincere in those court ordered retractions and remain wedded to their claims concerning Seth Rich. In my opinion, Seymour Hersh’s refusal to back up the story he originally relayed to Butowsky sealed the deal on the decision to seek/agree to a settlement in this suit. I haven’t seen anything about the full extent of this settlement.

Early on, Seth Rich’s parents stated they gave authorities access to all of their son’s belongings, including his laptop(s). I don’t remember if it was to the FBI or, more likely, the MPD homicide investigators. I am not surprised that the FBI ended up with the laptop. They would have been negligent not to investigate Rich as a possible lead in the DNC break in given the early statements of Assange and Butowsky. It would still be enlightening to see the conclusions reached by the FBI. Clevenger’s continued pursuit of that information is worthwhile and warranted.

David Habakkuk


I clearly need to repeat the key passage from Clevenger’s post I quoted, as you do not seem to have taken in the point he was making:

‘I repeatedly encouraged Fox’s attorneys to postpone settlement discussions with Seth Rich’s parents until I obtained the FBI records (my client, Ed Butowsky, was a co-defendant with Fox), but Fox was hellbent on settling the case in October / November. That’s around the time Rupert Murdoch publicly joined forces with Joe Biden. Fox had a very strong defense, yet it rolled over and played dead, settling the lawsuit and then firing Ms. Zimmerman. Sooner or later, the full story will come out, and it will be very ugly for Fox News and the Murdoch family.’

You might also with profit look back to Larry’s 30 November post, headlined ‘Fox News Swirling Down The Toilet’, and also a comment made on it by our colleague ‘walrus’, who has long experience watching Rupert Murdoch at work in Australia – as I have of watching him at work in Britain.

(See https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2020/11/fox-news-swirling-down-the-toliet-by-larry-c-johnson.html )

While I would like to think that Larry is right on the commercial judgements involved, the objections ‘walrus’ made, I fear, cannot simply be dismissed – although it may be that, by the end, pessimism got the better of him:

‘I am not in the lease surprised. Rupert did not make a lot of money by being stupid. He supports left wing politicians when it suits him. For example he made Tony Blair into Britain’s Prime Minister.

‘Take it from me that the Fox decision is a cold hearted icy logic business choice that Rupert believes is in his best interests.

‘Don’t be sentimental. Rupert is always on the side of the winner. His choice tells you what is coming. There isn’t going to be a ”conservative base” as a potentially valuable audience once Biden is President.

‘That means no one will admit to being a conservative, no conservative will have any money or ...’

It may help your understanding of contemporary American politics if I ‘flesh out’ what ‘walrus’ says about Murdoch’s relationship with Tony Blair.

And, particularly as I would not want you to ‘take my word’ on any of this history, it might help you understand your own country if you watched the first episode of the series ‘The Rise of Murdoch Dynasty’, entitled ‘Kingmaker’, which went out on the ‘BBC’ last July.

(See https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000kxvz/the-rise-of-the-murdoch-dynasty-series-1-1-kingmaker .)

The ‘blurb’, under a picture of Tony Blair looking, with an expression of positively ‘gushing’ enthusiasm, at Rebekah Wade, then editor of the ‘Sun’, the key ‘tabloid’ in the Murdoch ‘empire’, read:

‘Kingmaker meets Rupert Murdoch in 1995, a pivotal year that sees him presiding over two important dilemmas – who he wants to be Britain’s next prime minister and which of his children he wants to take over his business.

‘This episode charts the growing relationship between Rupert Murdoch and Tony Blair, and the Murdoch press and Blair’s Labour Party – a relationship that becomes almost uncomfortably close. Critics claim that Murdoch’s organisation cultivated too much influence over the British government – lobbying for war in Iraq, enjoying open access to the prime minister and favourable treatment when it comes to business. Supporters, however, claim that this is how business works, not least when you are as influential as Rupert Murdoch.

‘Murdoch’s family dynamic is rocked when he marries a woman 37 years his junior, polarising the children and jeopardising Murdoch’s plans for succession. Just as Murdoch is approaching the peak of his powers and influence in the UK, cracks begin to appear that point to deeper, darker problems within his empire.’

(If you can’t find the time to watch the programme, a useful summary in the ‘Press Gazette’, which starts off with a reference to the ‘almost incestuous’ relationship between Murdoch and Blair, is at

https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/rupert-murdoch-documentary-rise-of-dynasty-bbc-tony-blair/ )

In fairness to Blair, however, if one wants to understand why he was making ‘goggle eyes’ at Ms. Wade, you need to go back to the lessons ‘New Labour’ had drawn from the defeat of Neil Kinnock in the 1992 election.

On this, you might usefully start with the ‘Wikipedia’ entry on ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’ – the headline in which her predecessor – unabashedly – claimed responsibility for Labour’s defeat.

(See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_The_Sun_Wot_Won_It .)

According to the summary in the ‘Press Gazette’, an interviewee in the ‘Kingmaker’ programme refers to the ‘almost incestuous’ relationship between Murdoch and Blair. Earlier, there had been a rather similar relationship between him and Thatcher.

Of course, if – as an American – you have not managed to acquire any understanding of how Murdoch operates, you may think that the decision to settle with Joel and Mary Rich was taken because Sy Hersh had ‘walked back’ from the claims he had made to Ed Butowsky.

Anyone better informed will be aware that the ‘money’ Murdoch had acquired, and the ‘power’ which it had enabled him to wield, had always depended, precisely as ‘walrus’ pointed out, on ‘picking winners’ – in politics, quite as much as in business.

In the lead-up to your election, he faced one of the more difficult decisions of his career. And this also, in a complicated way, may be relevant to understanding what Ty Clevenger has been saying.

If one was ‘placing one’s bets’ on a Trump victory, then there was no reason for Murdoch to refrain from committing his ‘money’ and ‘power’ to lawsuits which. as in my view Clevenger quite correctly says, had every prospect of being successful, and which, if they were, would expose the leadership of the Democratic Party for the ‘crooks’ they are.

If however Biden was going to win, involvement in such lawsuits would risk catastrophically undermining Murdoch’s whole position in the United States, in which case his positions elsewhere might very well also disintegrate.

So, what did he do?

Actually, it is material here that, to an extent, the claims of a decisive role of the ‘Sun’ in 1992 and 1997 are somewhat overstated.

In both, much of the electorate was divided between increasing revulsion with the Tories, and a very strong residual suspicion of Labour. Even had the ‘Sun’ ceased publication, the balance would have changed, both in the ‘run-ups’ to the elections, and between those two dates.

So, in both cases, Murdoch had every interest in joining what many people thought would in any case be the ‘winning side’ – and exaggerating his contribution to its victory, so that he could ensure that the ‘victors’ wanted to ‘keep on the right’ side of his papers and other media outlets.

That is how he has – very successfully – obtained ‘money’ and ‘power.’

This also may be relevant to understanding another issue on which you touch, without, as far as I can see, having taken the trouble to do proper research.

In relation to the cases in which ‘Fox’ was not involved, so far I have seen no reason to believe that the dismissal orders – involving no payments of damages or costs to anyone – were anything other than what they seemed.

From the ‘New York Times’ report, it looks as though the dismissal order in the case in which the Murdochs were involved was in part a feint, whose function was to disguise the fact that a ‘seven figure payment’ had been made.

Incidentally, if you think that a ‘seven figure payment’ is anything more than ‘chump change’ to the Murdochs, compared to the advantages of being ‘in’ with the winning side, then – words fail me, frankly.

Rather obviously, however, Murdoch could have – quite ‘rationally’ – calculated that, irrespective out the outcome, it would be better if ‘awkward questions’ were not available to be asked until after it was known.



" Rich as a possible lead in the DNC break in..."

What break in was that? He was employed by them, it would be a leak if he were involved.


"his attempts to help the Rich family. (No good deed goes unpunished!)" ...
Posted by: David Habakkuk | 17 January 2021 at 11:44 AM

David, with all due respect. Another martyr for the truth and nothing but the truth?? 0nly?

Strictly I wondered about good deeds being punished, once, actually twice--Kant's duties to self in mind, which may have helped , at least in hindsight it felt like that--but as a general pattern?

David Habakkuk


Actually, I think this really is a ‘David and Goliath’ story.

In the light of your scepticism, a little more background to my own view may be helpful.

A lot of my own attitudes go back to the period, in the ‘Seventies and early ‘Eighties, when the self-proclaimed descendants of the Civil War period ‘Levellers’ whom ‘TTG’ has told us he admires, were rendering British industry unmanageable, and the country ungovernable.

Ironically, the reaction in favour of ‘neoliberalism’ that their activities did a very great deal to provoke was, at the outset, almost as much among the ‘right’ in the Labour Party, where many of my own intellectual ‘roots’ are, as among Tories.

It was Peter Jay, the son-in-law of the Labour Prime Minister from 1976-9, whom the ‘Leveller’ types were instrumental in destroying, following their destruction of the Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1974, who had been one of the principle ‘popularisers’ of the ideas of Milton Friedman in Britain.

This Jay did through his role as ‘Economics Editor’ of the ‘Times’, and also through his shaping influence on the flagship current affairs programme of ‘London Weekend Television’, ‘Weekend World.’

He had left to become our Ambassador in Washington, some time before I was recruited onto the programme, not long before Callaghan lost to Thatcher in May 1979.

A May 2019 obituary of Jay’s successor, Brian Walden by Michael Maclay, who ironically turns out to have some – indirect – relevance to ‘Russiagate’ through his role in the creation of the Hakluyt/Holdingham Group, actually brings back vivid memories of why I got myself off the programme at the end of my initial year. (I then made clear that I would resign rather than return to ‘Weekend World.’)

(See https://www.thearticle.com/brian-walden-the-man-who-left-politics-to-become-tvs-finest-political-interviewer-of-the-thatcher-era .)

This had a somewhat ironic aftermath. It was, I think, partly the fact that Peter, now Lord, Mandelson, once briefly my researcher, could not appreciate the force of the reservations some of us about the ‘Weekend World’ approach – and could only see its, actually not simply contemptible, virtues – that led to ‘Brexit.’

Just as Blair and Clinton believed ‘opinion polls’ that told them that NATO expansion was not an issue in Russia, so the ‘Remain’ campaign believed polls telling them immigration was not a central issue behind the support for ‘Leave.’ Those of us who had thought more about how to use, and how not to use, such ‘data’, knew that people like Mandelson were like the captain of the ‘Titanic’, steering too rapidly through waters they did not understand.

(Incidentally, if ‘Brexit’ was largely due to Tony Blair, Angela Merkel was ‘top supporting actor.’)

Reverting to the arguments of the ‘Eighties.

A central ‘neoliberal’ idea has been ‘contracting out’, on the basis of the supposed virtues of the ‘purchaser/provider split.’

This had its uses for some of us, for the fact that when ‘Channel 4’ was set up in 1982 on the basis of this principle meant that people who had made reasonably successful careers in established companies could see an opening to make programmes on matters which interested them.

Someone who 'jumped ship' at around the same time as me was Sean McPhilemy – I made a short film for him in early 1986 on German vocational training, for a ‘Channel 4 Special’ he and a partner were commissioned to make on the problems of the British economy.

As it happens, a lot of work had by this time been done among ‘current affairs’ programme-makers, Sean among them, on the ‘underside’ of the ‘dirty war’ in Northern Ireland.

In 1991,he produced a ‘Channel 4’ documentary, ‘The Committee’, on ‘Loyalist’ involvement in ‘targeted assassinations’ of Catholics in Northern Ireland (he is himself of Northern Irish Catholic background, married to someone of Northern Irish Protestant background.)

All hell broke loose, leading to many years of lawsuits, in which a central problem for Sean was that the ‘powers that be’ persuaded his central witness to ‘walk back’ on his story.

(See https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/ulstersghosts for an interesting account.

Also interesting is an interview Sean gave to Jeff Steinberg of the ‘Executive Intelligence Review’ in 1998, when he was promoting the book based on the programme, which was published in the United States, at https://larouchepub.com/eiw/public/1998/eirv25n31-19980807/eirv25n31-19980807_038-sean_mcphilemy.pdf )

Against this background, I find it very easy to understand how Ed Butowsky was driven to subterfuge to attempt to ensure that ‘evidence’ on which he relied did not ‘disappear’ – and also, how some of those who supplied that evidence have been reluctant to support him.

Someone with a modicum of human understanding, and compassion, can see how difficult are the decisions people can have to confront, in such situations.

Going back to Thatcher, and to Murdoch. Later on, Peter Jay told a mutual friend of us that he felt like the man who showed a map of the world to Attila the Hun.

This is not an appropriate occasion to got into the – many – issues involved here.

However, in reckoning with the history of the past decades, it is important to be aware both of the real achievements of Thatcherite ‘populism’, and its less helpful features.

So, in 1987 I think it was, the Oxford historian Norman Stone, who I had known slightly, and admired, when we ‘crossed paths’ at Cambridge almost two decades earlier, in the course of my own – undistinguished and mildly irreverent – student career, made a to my mind particularly unfortunate use of his column in the ‘Sunday Times.’

According to Stone, then degenerating into alcoholism, the – officially sponsored – contacts between the then director of ‘Chatham House’, Admiral Sir James Eberle, with his counterpart in Moscow, Yevgeny Primakov, merited a sneer: ‘The Red Admiral.’

A few years later, when definitely alcoholic, Stone would be teacher and mentor to Dominic Cummings, who has been described as playing the role of ‘Svengali’ to the ‘Trilby’ of Boris Johnson.

It is then material that Eberle graduated in the class of 1944 from the naval college at Dartmouth, and the ‘chief cadet captain’ in the class of 1942 had been Michael MccGwire, who, after the war, opted for Russian language training, and became the Royal Navy’s greatest expert on its Soviet counterpart.

So, Eberle, and also I, followed MccGwire. Meanwhile, Cummings followed his alcoholic Oxford professor. Blair followed Sir Lawrence Freedman, KCMG, CBE, PC, FBA, with whom I worked when I was ‘cutting my teeth’ on security issues on another ‘Special’ for ‘Channel 4.’ A man almost as shallow as Blair.

The Twisted Genius

David Habakkuk,

So Murdoch is a no good shit who only does what’s good for Murdoch. I won’t argue with that. He certainly didn’t want Dobbs and Hannity questioned under oath. That was about to happen in the Fox News lawsuit. I think that was the main reason he settled, although he did insist that the settlement not be made public until after the election. That sounds like he was hedging his bets in case Trump did win the election. I doubt he gave a damn whether Biden won or not, but I’m sure he’ll kiss up to the Biden administration to do what’s best for Murdoch.

And what did Murdoch have to do with the Aaron Rich lawsuit? Whatever reason Murdoch had for folding in the Fox News lawsuit had no bearing on the lawsuit against Couch and Butowsky. They had their own reasons for folding, which I attributed to the failure of Sy Hersh to back up their claims. I’m sure the fact that both the Washington Times and Fox News both settled left Butowsky and Couch totally deflated in conjunction with Sy Hersh’s failure to come through for them. They knew what was coming and were looking to settle. Couch’s efforts at least had the appearance of sincerity and Rich asked that the suit against Couch and his America First Media be dismissed. Aaron Rich got what he wanted. However Butowsky is still on the hook. His twitter “retraction and apology” was hidden under a series of animal images and was removed quickly. Butowsky’s half-assed effort reeked of insincerity and it wasn’t enough. Aaron Rich’s suit against Butowsky remains active.

I’m sure Butowsky, Clevenger and probably Couch still believe their theories about Seth Rich. But beliefs don’t win lawsuits. Clevenger failed to present facts or convincing arguments in any of the Rich lawsuits. He has his chance in the remaining lawsuit against Butowsky. I see no reason for holding back.

BTW, I see my question to you about the Levellers really got your knickers in a knot. I knew very little about them other than they were a short lived movement seemingly dedicated to extreme egalitarianism. I was hoping you would enlighten me about them. Alas, I didn’t realize the query would trigger you so. They must have been bastards.


TTG, "So Murdoch is a no good shit who only does what’s good for Murdoch."

With respect TTG, Murdoch is a kingmaker. He doesn't just "go with the flow" as some supine flexible reed. He actively promotes people and causes that have no personal significance to him.

One has to ask "why" and the answer may not simply be the NEWS LTD. share price.

For example "we" knew 12 - 18 months before that UK election that Tony Blair was Murdochs choice. Why? Because Blair came to the backblocks of Australia to give the keynote address at the News Ltd. editors annual conference here at "Wuperts' invitation.

Rupert is a player, not a weak reed.

David Habakkuk


You are right, inasmuch as, in relation to the case brought by Aaron Rich against Butowsky and Couch, the ‘order to dismiss’ I quoted related to an appeal the former brought, not the main case.

I see however that in relation to Couch, Aaron Rich has now asked for, and been granted, an ‘Order to Dismiss’, which is ‘with prejudice’, so that the case has been definitively abandoned, with both sides bearing all their costs. There is no mention of damages.

As yet it does not seem clear whether Butowsky is not included because there are some ‘niggles’ in the way of a final settlement, or whether none will materialise. If so, Rich would have to decide whether actively to pursue the case, or ‘soft pedal.’

Your most recent comment made me go through the cross-examination of Hersh by Eden P. Quainton on 15 July, which I had only had time to ‘skim read’ when Ty Clevenger first posted it.

(See https://lawflog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/2020.12.30-Exhibit-8-Hersh-depositionstamped.pdf .)

As with many crucial documents, particularly in legal cases, it is a problem that a lot of work is needed to actually ‘digest’ them.

This is all the more so here because a full transcript of the recording of the conversation between Butowsky and Hersh with which the deposition is largely concerned is not publicly available.

It seems to me clear that the contradictions between what the latter said then and is saying now are very great, but it is more difficult to document this with only the audio available.

I would like to be clearer on the precise chronology of Hersh’s ‘walking back’ from the – actually rather definite – claims he made in the telephone conversation.

However, I think it is reasonably safe to read the transcript as providing fresh confirmation that this occurred very significantly before 13 March 2018, the date when Joel and Mary Rich filed their suit against Fox, Malia Zimmerman, and Butowsky.

As it happens, I have been in conference with a top defamation lawyer, about planning our defence strategy against a libel suit occasioned by a programme I made.

The transcript rather strongly confirms my sense that nobody but a complete idiot would, in discussing the viability of a defence in this suit at that time or later, have thought that it made sense to base any calculations on the possibility that Hersh could be persuaded to endorse the claims he had ‘walked back.’

The significance of the deposition was not that it dealt some kind of devastating blow to hopes that he might somehow be persuaded to do this, but that it provided clarification on how he would be defend his ‘walk back’ under cross-examination.

That such clarification as was provided did not give either Butowsky, Couch, Zimmerman or indeed Murdoch any reason to change their original assessments of their prospects of success seems to me clear.

The ‘deposition’ of Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity was supposed to have happened on 7 and 30 October.

There may have been reasons of which I am not aware why ‘Wupert’ should have concluded that this process posed an ‘existential threat’ to the defence by Fox, but 1. I am not aware of them, and 2. if such existed, as with the problem with Hersh’s claims, they should have been apparent very much earlier.

My view remains that what changed in the position of Fox, leading to ‘consequential’ changes in the position of Couch and Butowsky – although how far the latter goes remains not yet totally clear – related entirely to the politics of the situation.

Given that the shift to Biden which became vividly apparent with the ‘early call’ of the Arizona result was clearly planned in advance, the last thing ‘Wupert’ would have wanted would have been to have his ‘stars’ coming out decisively on the side of Trump immediately before the election.

Coming back to the changes in Hersh’s position, I think one needs some context.

Here, some further links on the legal battles in which my erstwhile colleague Sean McPhilemy was involved, as a result of the programme, and later book, in which he exposed the involvement of prominent loyalists in targeting Catholics during the ‘Troubles’, may be helpful.

(See https://www.theguardian.com/media/2001/may/28/sundaytimes.mondaymediasection
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/author-agrees-to-pay-two-armagh-brothers-1m-1.270523 )

One interesting feature of the Hersh transcript is to see one of the most admired – and deservedly so – of post-war American journalists making oddly dogmatic claims about proper journalistic practice, in a field where good ‘rules of thumb’ should commonly not be allowed to harden into ‘dogma.’

So, for instance, while it is usually sensible to avoid publishing material from a ‘single source’, as he says he would never do, there are circumstances where it is appropriate.

Finding people prepared to break the ‘omerta’ surrounding the ‘dirty war’ in Northern Ireland was difficult enough, and when such a figure came forward Sean was sufficiently convinced of the accuracy of the information he provided to ‘run with it.’

By the same token, however, in a situation where, if one ‘skeleton’ was allowed to fall out of the ‘cupboard’, about the ‘dirty war’, a lot more might, a lot of rather powerful people had a strong incentive to take rather drastic action.

So, the police broke into the house of Sean’s researcher, and with the material thus obtained, were able to identify, and ‘turn’, the single source.

Fortunately for Sean, however, the Murdoch-owned ‘Sunday Times’, and the ‘deep state’ elements behind it, made the mistake of trying to prove that he was involved in some kind of deliberate ‘hoax.’ So, at the cost of a ruined career, after a decade-long legal battle, he emerged victorious. (The man has guts, and a loyal wife.)

In the case of Ed Butowsky, he, rather obviously, had to face precisely the same risk as Sean: that people who had told him things might either ‘go mum’ or completely change their stories.

This could be because ‘we have ways of making you not talk’, or of their own free will.

An important background issue may be the 'stigma' attached in many circles to being responsible, in any way, for a victory, past or future, by Donald Trump.

This is I think precisely what has happened. Moreover, I think had the cases come to court, a good cross-examining lawyer would have been able to exploit the contradictions resulting, to devastating effect.

However, it is not in my view so very surprising that, when Butowsky heard about Hersh’s conversation with his source, he felt this was absolutely crucial evidence that he needed to be sure could not be ‘retracted’, and so recorded the conversation.

As the transcript makes absolutely clear, and is indeed hardly surprising, Hersh felt betrayed, and even more so, given that, as I think his exchanges with Quainton make quite clear, he was aghast at seeing what he had thought was confidential information provided to Trump’s people.

Rather obviously, once the ‘news got out’, people would be seeking to identify the source, and Hersh would find himself in a very difficult position indeed.

However, the difficulties of Butowsky’s position were equally serious – and they caused him to identify the figure he thought was the source: in a somewhat bizarre way.

Here, a key document is the ‘Second Amended Complaint’ filed on 31 July 2019 by Ty Clevenger on behalf of Ed Butowsky in his case against Michael Gottlieb et al.

(It is Item 101 on the ‘Courtlistener’ docket, at https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/14681570/butowsky-v-gottlieb/ .)

In para. 57 a claim is made that: ‘In a separate phone call with Mr. Butowsky, Mr. Hersh said he obtained his information about Seth Rich from Mr. McCabe, the deputy FBI director.’

Something Hersh stresses in the transcript was that there was only one ‘phone call – and on this point I absolutely believe him.

However, Butowsky and Clevenger would not have included it in the Complaint unless they believed it true. It thus seems likely that they had the information from a source which, rightly or wrongly, they regarded as reliable, and from which they wanted, at this point at least, to divert attention.

Whether McCabe was the source, or whether Butowsky and Clevenger had been 'played', is a matter on which I am agnostic.

However, I do think that the account provided in the telephone conversations reads as though it could well have been part of a ‘limited hangout’, at a stage before it was believed that the ‘fix’ in relation to the life and death of Seth Rich could be ‘made to stick.’

So it could in key respects be deliberately misleading, which, if true, is very important.

Obviously, the insistent denials by Hersh in the transcript that his source either was from the FBI or had spoken to an agent of that organisation prove nothing either way.

In matters like this, there are often perfectly honourable, as well as very dishonourable, reasons why people should want to divert attention from the truth.

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