Consider for a moment here the recent timeline and its features:
-On August 22, 2018, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer (rather idiotically and unintentionally) reveals in an unrelated court filing that Julian Assange has been charged with crimes in the US, a development that breaks in the headlines on November 15. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department had tried to formulate a logic by which to prosecute the Wikileaks publisher. However, they were forced to ultimately drop the effort when they realized the legal precedent they would create could in turn be used against any journalist or news publisher, up to and including the New York Times. This change in direction under the current administration therefore is a dire development.
-On December 7, 2018, President Trump announces his nomination of Reagan administration veteran William Barr to replace outgoing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He is confirmed for the post on February 14, 2019. The current indictment being levied against Assange dates back to Sessions’ tenure.
–A subpoena dated January 22, 2019 is issued to Chelsea Manning, ordering her to testify before a secretive grand jury in the US District Court, Eastern District of Virginia.
-On January 25, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appoints Elliot Abrams to the Venezuela portfolio, bringing another Reagan-era neocon onboard.
-On February 28 Manning reveals in an interview with New York Times correspondent Charlie Savage the existence of the subpoena and her intention to fight.
-On March 5 a federal judge rejects Manning’s motion to quash the subpoena. On March 8 she will be jailed for contempt of court by US District Judge Claude Hilton. She is held in administrative segregation, which is described as “effectively solitary confinement” by advocates who point out she is relegated to 22 hours a day without contact with other people. The UN special rapporteur and other human rights advocates declare this a form of torture.
-On March 24, 2019, William Barr released his summary of the Mueller Report. The symphony of liberal punditry, to my mind, sounded like a ho-hum griping crescendo that concludes with an anti-climactic “oh well…” The power brokers of the Democratic Party were finally forced to admit that their emperor had no clothes and recognize that, rather than spending the past three years now fighting for things like single-payer healthcare or free college education, they had put all their eggs into the Russia-Gate basket, which in turn was summarily atomic bombed out of existence. All hail Monty Python’s Partisan Resistance©!
–April 3 is when Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno claims that Julian Assange has broken terms of his asylum deal in the London embassy and thereby makes public intentions to revoke his protection inside the Embassy.
-On April 5 Manning is removed from segregation and put into the general population.
-On April 10, Mike Pence addresses the United Nations. His public message is referencing the events in Venezuela but there can be little doubt that he also would have perhaps taken the opportunity to speak with officials representing Ecuador, where he has previously visited in his capacity as Vice President in July 2018. Ecuador borders Colombia, which in turn is on Venezuela’s western border (recall several months ago the infamous “foreign aid” trucks that were intended to be sent into Venezuela via Colombia). Assange is arrested the next day.
Let’s be completely clear, unlike the incoherent and perhaps attention-deficit Commander-in-Chief, Pence is a disciplined, focused, and regimented political operative who has openly said he desires to model his tenure on that of Dick Cheney, probably the most consequential and impactful Vice President of the past century.
However, the VP is in a bit of a jam. On the one hand, he is an Evangelical Catholic neoconservative with ties to the Republican establishment. On the other hand, Trump basically de-legitimized and stigmatized that entire leadership superstructure in a 2015-16 campaign that at times seemed like an open scorched earth war upon the very party he sought to gain nomination from. He exiled from the voter base all the white-collar country club conservatives that brought money and respectability to the party (remember the #NeverTrump clique?) and replaced it with a horde of white nationalists, disgruntled Libertarians, and dissident blue collar workers who turned to reactionary politics as a result of Obama’s austerity policies.
Pence operates on a tightrope. He allows Trump to throw chum to the sharks, distracting the base while the VP and neocons work in the background.
Now recall the ouster of Michael Flynn, the extremely problematic (but also pro-detente) military advisor Trump took into his White House transition team. There’s very little to suggest that Flynn ever did anything really illegal besides maybe perjuring himself. In reality, setting up a secret back channel with the Kremlin, his alleged crime, is actually an essential function of any presidency.
Furthermore, none other than the still-very-much-alive Henry Kissinger provides a stunning counter-example. Why is it that Kissinger still walks free today for establishing a similar back channel in 1968 on behalf of candidate Richard Nixon so to kill negotiations between then-President Lyndon Johnson and North Vietnam? The fact Kissinger and Flynn both were occupying the exact same federal prosecutor’s jurisdiction in Manhattan at the end of 2016 makes the irony even richer.
In other words, the Flynn conviction over nothing was a warning sign to Trump and his inclinations towards detente. In response Trump has returned to saber-rattling towards Russia, withdrawing from major arms proliferation treaties while an ever-expanding NATO continues to agitate at Vladimir Putin’s doorstep.
So could Trump have worked a deal where the Mueller Report would clear him in exchange for continued saber-rattling towards Moscow and taking out Assange? Remember, Barr is himself an old school neocon from the Reagan-Bush years whose record includes helping President H.W. Bush pardon six officials from the Iran-Contra scandal.
This is a White House that has now become loaded with the very mainstream neocons that Trump claimed to want to oust during his campaign.