Shorthand and a big pile of Nothing. (More)

“I need a favor” … “Good, I need a favor!”

To judge by the reactions of Donald Trump – and reader comments at many news sites – you’d think Hillary Clinton used her Kennedy family connections to hold two FBI agents hostage in Baghdad, demanding the Bureau bury as a “geological report” the email that proved she planned the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi.

Yeah, no.

Turns out the stories that sent the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza into “where there’s smoke there’s fire” mode were based on third-party hearsay in FBI witness statement summaries. The story as told by the actual participants is … much less smoky:

FBI official Brian McCauley had been trying for weeks to get his contact at the State Department to approve his request to put two bureau employees back in Baghdad.

Around May 2015, Patrick Kennedy finally called back.

“He said: ‘Brian. Pat Kennedy. I need a favor,’” McCauley recalled in an interview Tuesday. “I said: ‘Good, I need a favor. I need our people back in Baghdad.’”

First things first: the Patrick F. Kennedy who has worked at the State Department since 1993 is not the Patrick J. Kennedy who served in Congress from 1995 to 2001, and Patrick F. is not one of Those Kennedys.

Back to our story. What followed was Two Government Employees Trying to Get Stuff Done. At the FBI, McCauley wanted the State Department to approve two more FBI agents for work in Baghdad. At State, Kennedy wanted the FBI to declassify an email that Clinton sent in late 2012 about an arrest in the Benghazi case, so the State Department could redact it as a B7 (ongoing law enforcement investigation) exemption on a Freedom of Information Act request.

Both Kennedy and McCauley deny there was any offer or hint of “quid pro quo.” That is, this was not a case of “I’ll do your thing if you do mine.” It just happened that each had something to discuss during a two-minute phone call. And, ultimately, several phone calls by and to other people later, neither agency got what it asked for. The State Department did not approve the FBI’s request for two more agents in Baghdad, and the FBI did not the agree to declassify the email.

Note that both the FBI and the State Department would have released the email in redacted form. The FBI wanted to (and ultimately did) deem it classified, and it would be redacted without explanation. The State Department wanted it declassified and exempted as a B7, and it would have been redacted with a note explaining that the email discussed an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

Also, note that this conversation happened in May 2015, two years after Clinton left the State Department. There is no evidence she was even aware that Kennedy and McCauley spoke until the right-wing Weekly Standard pushed the story into the media this week.

Finally, note that this conversation happened before the FBI opened its investigation of Clinton’s emails. There is no evidence that Kennedy was trying to cover for Clinton. This was a routine inter-agency back-and-forth over how best to handle a FOIA request.

So why did the State Department try to bury the email as a “geological report?” They didn’t:

The reference to a “B9” classification is a mystery, as it refers to a Freedom of Information Act redaction relating to geological information. The State Department says Kennedy referred to “B7,” which concerns law enforcement information. That makes more sense, though given the context of the conversation as described in the FBI interview, the phrase “benign” – instead of “B9” – also seems possible.

The most likely explanation is that the third-party witness said Kennedy wanted to give the email “a benign classification,” and the FBI agent conducting the interview either misunderstood that as “B9” or used “B9” as shorthand for “benign.”

This is yet another Clinton Scandal Story With No ‘There’ There.


“The likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent U.S. elections is 0”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is citing a debunked Washington Post Monkey Cage blog post to ‘prove’ his rigged election myth:

As Donald Trump amps up his allegations that the election will somehow be rigged against him, he and his surrogates have latched on to a myth that fraudulent votes somehow swung North Carolina to President Obama’s favor in 2008.

Trump himself referenced the theory – that was first put forward in a flimsy and controversial 2014 Washington Post op-ed – from the stump in a speech in Wisconsin Monday evening, where he told the crowd, “It is possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina.”

The 2014 Monkey Cage post claimed:

In a forthcoming article in the journal Electoral Studies, we bring real data from big social science survey datasets to bear on the question of whether, to what extent, and for whom non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. Most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote. But enough do that their participation can change the outcome of close races.

Our data comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Its large number of observations (32,800 in 2008 and 55,400 in 2010) provide sufficient samples of the non-immigrant sub-population, with 339 non-citizen respondents in 2008 and 489 in 2010. For the 2008 CCES, we also attempted to match respondents to voter files so that we could verify whether they actually voted.

Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

Of course that story flew around right-wing rage sites like Breitbart. But their analysis was fundamentally flawed, according to a peer-reviewed article by two CCES directors and their YouGov colleague:

This paper documents how low-level measurement error for survey questions generally agreed to be highly reliable can lead to large prediction errors in large sample surveys, such as the CCES. The example for this analysis is Richman, Chattha, and Earnest (2014), which presents a biased estimate of the rate at which non-citizens voted in recent elections. The results, we show, are completely accounted for by very low frequency measurement error; further, the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.

The analysis is math-heavy, but here’s the gist. Let’s say you ask 20,000 people if they’re U.S. citizens, and 19,500 check the “Yes” box while 500 check the “No” box. And let’s say 99.9% of them answered correctly, that is: 99.9% of citizens checked the “Yes” box, and 99.9% of non-citizens checked the “No” box.

The remaining 0.1% – 20 people in your sample of 20,000 – checked the wrong box. Statistically, you’d expect that to be 19 citizens who mistakenly checked the “No” box, and 1 non-citizen who mistakenly checked the “Yes” box.

Now let’s say 70% of citizens will say they voted. Thus, you should expect that 13 ‘non-citizens’ – 70% of the 19 citizens who mistakenly checked the “No” box for citizenship – will say they voted. That works out to 2.6% of ‘non-citizens’ saying they voted …

… and that fits the percentages claimed in the Monkey Cage article. It’s not an exact match, because they don’t know that exactly 99.9% of both citizens and non-citizens checked the correct box for citizenship. But that 2.6% statistical expectation is close enough that the Monkey Cage numbers reflect nothing more than citizens who checked the wrong box, as the CCES directors conclude:

Richman and colleagues offer interpretations of their results based on predicted vote rates of non-citizens and the share of that group of all voters. Their calculations incorrectly assume that the validated vote of those who reported being non-citizens each year is an unbiased estimate of actual non-citizen voting rates. Our analysis indicates that all three of those cases are nearly certainly citizen voters who are misclassified as being non-citizens. Hence, their predicted vote rates of non-citizens in fact reflect the behavior of citizens.

Trump’s claim that illegal voters stole the 2008 election is yet another pile of There’s No ‘There’ There.


Image Credit: Learn Eng Pronunciation (YouTube)


Good day and good nuts