While the Democrats are waiting for Jesus, or rather Robert Mueller, to save them from their failed election strategy of 2016, I’m having a lot of trouble taking the Russian Collusion storyline seriously. Let there be no mistake: I think Trump is a clear and present danger to the nation and its hallowed (if not hollowed) institutions. But Trump is a symptom of a problem that has a long history – decades long, to be sure – and not just under Republican administrations. Trump may be the worst, but he is not the first, to lie to the nation.
I take no pleasure in absolving Mr. Trump of alleged crimes against the constitution. To my mind, he violated the “emoluments clause” the day he took office. But that is not what Democrats are hoping to hang him on, and not what the venerable Mr. Mueller is investigating. No, the charge is that Mr. Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 election. That is the “ball,” as it were. It is important to keep your eye on the ball when you consider what news organizations such as Politico and many, many others – most egregiously, Rachel Maddow – consider the ‘gotchas’ in the Mueller probe. Here is a chronological list, with some additions and annotations of my own—
10/5/17: George Papadopoulos, foreign policy advisor to Trump's campaign, was indicted for lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos admitted that he discussed his Russia contacts with top campaign officials, including a possible meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A presidential candidate meeting with a foreign leader? Shocking. Also, not illegal. Having “contacts” in Russia when you are doing business there? Also not illegal. Nothing to see here.
10/30/17: Paul Manafort, top Trump campaign aide, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner, was indicted for tax and bank fraud and for committing a conspiracy against the United States and a conspiracy to obstruct justice. But the allegedly illicit business dealings between Manafort and pro-Russian Ukrainian officials stretched back years and were with Ukraine, not Russia, and not related to the 2016 campaign. Additionally, the tax fraud and bank fraud were not committed by anybody named Trump. Nothing to see here, either.
12/1/17: Michael Flynn, Trump's national security adviser for 24 days, indicted for lying to federal investigators about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition (11/9/16-1/19/18) about sanctions President Obama had just imposed on Russia for its “interference” in the 2016 elections. But this had much to do with lifting sanctions and nothing to do with “Russian collusion” to win an election.
2/12/18: Richard Pinedo sold stolen bank account information to Russian Internet trolls so they could buy internet ads to “sow division” among Americans during the 2016 election. Basically, Pinedo went to prison for $2,700-worth of social media memes that almost nobody saw, half of which were not published until after the election. And sowing division is something Republicans and Fox News do all the time, just for ratings. No collusion with the Russian government by Trump is alleged in this indictment.
2/16/18: Several foreign nationals and several foreign companies were indicted for orchestrating a “troll farm” against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Trump – you know, like the Republicans and Fox News were doing throughout the campaign. Even the Mueller team admits there was not much effect in swaying votes. There are no orange fingerprints in this indictment, either.
2/20/18: Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan was indicted for lying to the FBI… about his communications with Rick Gates (see above). Still no “Russian collusion” here. (And ‘Person A’ in the indictment cannot be Trump, unless Trump is fluent in Russian. Trump isn’t even fluent in English!)
2/21/18: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates returned to the indictment dock with charges of tax and bank fraud. Granted, they are crooks and lied to the FBI. But that’s still not Russian collusion. Nothing to see here, either.
2/23/18: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates apparently masterminded a secret group to promote Ukrainian interests. But Ukraine is not Russia, so it’s not Russian collusion.
6/8/18: Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, was charged along with him with obstruction of justice for trying to get witnesses against Manafort to change their testimony. But this sounds more like self-preservation than Russian collusion – and remember, Manafort was dealing here with Ukraine, not Russia.
7/13/18: 12 Russian intelligence officials of the GRU were charged with hacking DNC computers connected with the Clinton campaign and John Podesta and disseminating emails through the online persona “Guccifer 2.0.” Funny thing about the “DNC hack”: According to NSA whistleblower William Binney, the hack could not have been accomplished over the Internet, as the file transfer rate is known and only a local hack, like a thumb drive, could have captured data that fast.
What’s more, the Intelligence Community Assessment, talking about having “high confidence” that the Russians were the hackers, says at the bottom of page 13 of that same report (“Annex B”), “Confidence in the Sources Supporting Judgments. Confidence levels provide assessments of the quality and quantity of the source information that supports judgments. Consequently, we ascribe high, moderate, or low levels of confidence assessments: • High confidence generally indicates that judgments are based on high-quality information from multiple sources. High confidence in a judgment does not imply that the assessment is a fact or a certainty; such judgments might be wrong.” (INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENT)
News reports say, “...the Democratic National Committee had already made public the fact that it had been hacked by the Russian government...” But it may be more accurate to say, “The private security company, Crowdstrike, that the DNC had hired, claimed it had evidence that the DNC had been hacked by the Russian government. However, the DNC refused to make its servers available to the FBI, so there is no independent corroboration of Crowdstrike’s claims.”
8/21/18: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and “fixer,” pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women to cover up Trump’s extramarital affairs. This really was meant to influence the 2016 election, but nobody has alleged that Cohen is a Russian government official. Cohen also got nicked for lying to Congress and tax fraud. But not for Russian collusion.
8/31/18: W. Samuel Patten helped a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch – a funny word that in English means “rich asshole” – to get tickets to Trump events. So, he was charged with failing to register as a foreign lobbyist. For Ukraine. Still not seeing that Russian collusion!
11/29/18: Michael Cohen told Mr. Mueller, oops, maybe I did lie to Congress about the length of discussions about the Trump Tower project in Moscow. If a business deal is Russian collusion, it would seem to be upside down: Trump wanted something from Moscow, not necessarily the other way around.
1/24/19: The big fish? Roger Stone, the American political consultant and strategist known for his use of opposition research, who worked for the 2016 Trump campaign, was indicted by the Mueller team for obstruction of an official proceeding, making false statements, and witness tampering. It is alleged in the indictment that he knew in advance that Wikileaks would publish the purloined Podesta emails, presumably stolen via Russian hacking.
However, unless it is demonstrated (1) that Russian government officials stole the emails that Wikileaks published, (2) that Stone knew about this and failed to report this Russian action to the FBI, (3) that the stolen/published emails somehow caused Hillary Clinton to lose and Donald Trump to win in 2016, and (4) that the Russian government somehow had a hand in this result – what exactly does this prove about Russian meddling in the 2016 election? That Russians wanted the world to know that the DNC was trying to torpedo the Bernie Sanders campaign? Shouldn’t we be thanking the Russians, Wikileaks and Roger Stone, instead of investigating them?
2/12/19: The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee found “no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” after two years and 200 interviews!
3/8/19: The Trump inauguration took money from shell companies tied to foreigners. “US election law prohibits non-resident foreigners from contributing to political campaigns, including inaugurations. Donors or campaigns who ‘knowingly and willfully’ breach this rule may be fined or prosecuted.” So says a report in The Guardian, which points out that the total donations were $75,000 out an inauguration budget of $107,000,000. And who are these foreign donors? (1) a Delaware shell company for a wealthy Indian financier based in London, (2) a company formed in Georgia (USA) by a lobbyist with connections to the Taiwanese government, (3) a company formed anonymously in New York by an Israeli real estate developer. I don’t see any Russians, do you?
What is the evidence for Russiagate?
Vox and other journalistic outlets have claimed that evidence of witness tampering and obstruction of justice is evidence of Trump campaign collusion with Russia to throw the 2016 election. Presumably they are using the legal standard of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But I’m not sure that standard is actually found in law and it is not a conclusion that a journalist with any integrity would draw. Yes, that works for continuing to investigate, but until there is verifiable evidence, the final judgment has to be, “where there’s smoke, there’s smoke.”
The DNC hacks. The stolen “Podesta emails” – never mind what the emails actually, factually say about DNC plans to commit election fraud against Bernie Sanders – are “now believed to have been agents operating on behalf of the Russian government.” Believed by whom? US intelligence agencies that historically have no love for democracy and due process? The same agencies that use the code phrase “high confidence” to mean “we don’t have any actual evidence”? And even if “high confidence” didn’t mean “no evidence,” no evidence was ever offered to the public.
On 10/10/2016, candidate Trump praised Wikileaks, a news organization that has never had to retract a story – unlike, say, the pro-war New York Times and the pro-CIA, anti-Bernie Sanders Washington Post. And, as the hacked emails were released via Wikileaks, not the Russians or the Trump campaign, it’s hard to place the smoking gun in Mr. Trump’s tiny hands. Trump’s praise of Putin raised eyebrows among those who seem to have forgotten that Trump praised other dictators, living and dead, such as Kim Jong Un (North Korea), Moammar Gadhafi (Libya), Xi Jinping (China), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt) as well as Saddam Hussein (Iraq) and Benito Mussolini (Italy). Even Vox calls this “grounds for suspicion,” not collusion.
What about ostensibly “extensive” outreach between Trump and Russia – a country with whom Trump will have to deal while president? Here is what Voxfinds suspicious, if not “collusive”—
Michael Cohen’s January 2016 email to Dmitry Peskov. A former diplomat, Peskov had been the Press Secretary for Vladimir Putin. Pretty suspicious, right? But Peskov never responded to Cohen’s email and Trump never got his Moscow tower project out of the ground. That this had anything to do with the 2016 election is still unproven. Remember, Trump wanted something from Russia, not necessarily the other way around.
Ivanka Trump’s October 2015 exchange with Dmitry Klokov. Seriously? Klokov is a former Russian Olympic weightlifter. His connection to anything other than the failed Moscow Trump Tower is tenuous, at best.
But Voxputs the worst possible spin on the matter, calling the contacts only “ostensibly” about the moribund Moscow Trump Tower project. Isn’t it just possible, absent Trump Derangement Syndrome, that the contacts were indeed about the Moscow Trump Tower project?
Donald Trump Jr. meeting with, Aleksander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank in May 2016. Is this “questionable contact” with Russian officials, or laying the groundwork for diplomatic relations between two nuclear powers? I mean, why wouldn’t a presidential candidate’s team meet with the leaders of other powerful nations? And why should Russia be an adversary in the first place?
TheTrump Tower Meeting of June 9, 2016. Three senior members of the 2016 Trump campaign (Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort) met for 20 minutes with at least five other people, including Russian lawyer and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya, believing that they would receive information damaging to Hillary Clinton as part of “opposition research.” The other attendees, aside from Veselnitskaya, were Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, Rob Goldstone, the publicist for Emin Agalarov, an Azerbaijani-Russian singer and businessman, Anatoli Samochornov, a translator for Veselnitskaya and a former contract interpreter for the U.S. State Dept. and Ike Kaveladze, a Georgian-American real estate developer who works for Emin Agalarov’s father, Aras Agalarov.
The purpose of the meeting was clearly to help the Trump campaign, right? Well, not one of the five known attendees had any closer relationship to the Russian government than, say, a communications lobbyist in the U.S. would have with the U.S. government. The “teaser” for the meeting may have been the offer of information regarding a corrupt Democratic donor (and when has that ever occurred?), but the purpose of the meeting turned out to have been about … adoptions? Or maybe overturning the 2012 Obama-era Magnitsky Act (intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison).
The Manafort-Deripaska connection. Trump hired Paul Manafort to manage his campaign, but did Trump know Manafort was deeply in debt to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska? His emails show that Manafort wanted to use his position with Trump to “get whole.” But this shows that Manafort is corrupt, which nobody now doubts, not Trump, not his election campaign – and still no collusion with the Russian government.
What about supposed “open collusion” (as Vox calls it)? That is, what about Trump siding with a ‘hostile foreign power’ (Russia) on policy matters? It is charged, as Vox puts it, that Trump ran his campaign on a “pro-Russia platform, adopting Russian views on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, defending Putin’s character, and vowing to break up the NATO alliance.” One might also mention that Trump (as did his predecessors since Eisenhower) ran on a pro-Saudi platform, the country that contributed 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11/01, and who encouraged the murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi. But that’s not considered “collusion” with a foreign government?
Nevertheless, isn’t the U.S. siding with, if not colluding with, Israel? Can anybody honestly say that Israel does not interfere in the U.S. political process? And that’s not just because AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is a very powerful force in Washington. Otherwise, how can you explain that the very first bill put before the 116th Senate was an anti-BDS bill? The plainly unconstitutional bill to make it illegal to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel was meant to protect a foreign power from the free speech rights of U.S. citizens!
Does “collusion” only matter when it involves an economically weak country that refuses to become a client state? Does “collusion” only matter when that country is surrounded by U.S./NATO military bases, and is subjected to U.S. economic sanctions, and that country dares to protest?
Again, it is alleged that Trump “offered pro-Russia policy in exchange for Russian assistance.” Really? Is it a bad thing to negotiate with, or even to talk to, a nuclear state, to achieve peaceful ends? That is “collusion”? Furthermore, if Trump is a traitor and a Putin puppet, why is he doing exactly the opposite of what Putin wants with regard to regime change in Venezuela? Or putting sanctions on Russia in response to the Ukraine incursion – exactly the opposite of what Putin wants? Or bombing Syria, twice – exactly the opposite of what Putin wants? Or trying to stop the pipeline Russia wants to build across Syria to access Iranian oil – exactly the opposite of what Putin wants?
Unless one is suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” in which we abandon logic and evidence and consider every word or action of the orange-hued, racist, dictator-wannabe in the White House as axiomatically wrong or evil – this “Russia-gator” stew is supported by pretty thin sauce.
Russia-gator is Going to Bite You
“Russia-gators” may very well have a disastrous backfire on their hands. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller – who in 2003 helped to lie the U.S. into the disastrous Iraq War – finally releases his report, and if the public are allowed to read any of it, I expect to hear not a bombshell but a dud. And then all the anti-Trumpers, who were waiting for salvation from a racist (COINTELPRO), murderous (Fred Hampton), anti-progressive (according to Terry Turchie, former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division) organization that is paid to lie to the American people, will be washing rotten egg off their faces.
Worse, Trump will be vindicated for calling everything anti-Trump “fake news.” Why are liberals making this so easy for Trump?
“Russia-gators” have their own domestic problems. Or do you remember when the Russians…
(Neither do I.) OK, maybe the Russians couldn’t have done those things. But certainly they’re trying to “undermine our democracy”? If so, then is must have been the Russians who…
And one more thing: The U.S. is so worried about Russia interfering in U.S. elections, can we not see the irony of our own interference in the Venezuelan election?
But let’s keep our eye on the ball. Maybe I will be proven wrong. Maybe Mr. Mueller, in spite of any evidence falling out of his investigation beforehand, will come up with the magic bullet and shoot down all the problems the Neoliberals and Corporate Democrats have brought on themselves since they turned their backs on the working class during the Clinton presidency. But I believe Russia-gator is a wild, untamable beast and its creator will be devoured.
Wrote biographer John Forster, who knew Dickens, "He had rejected the Church of England and detested the influence of its bishops in English politics."