Incoming elected administrations, especially the Obama transition team of 2008 in the case of Russia and Iran, seek contacts with foreign diplomats before formally entering office.
Most presidential campaigns are staffed by at least a few free-lancing opportunists who see their candidate as a nexus for profiteering. There is no need for a reminder of the lucrative careers of Bill Clinton from 2009-2012, or of Hillary Clinton’s brother, or of the nature of some of John Podesta’s investments. And foreign governments, our own included as in the case of the Obama Administration’s entrance into the Israeli elections, are frequently accused of trying to sway or indeed interfere with another nation’s campaign cycles.
Yet what is strange about the charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is that those landscapes were concocted into something supposedly criminal and uniquely applicable to Donald Trump’s election and presidency. Indeed, one of the strangest events in recent political history was the post-election false news narrative that Trump and the “Russians” had colluded during the campaign to rob Hillary Clinton of a sure victory.
The discredited concoction lingers to this day, despite the fact that former FBI Director James Comey on three occasions told Trump that he was not the subject of any investigation about collusion with the Russians.
Both the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan (both foes of Trump) at various times admitted that there was no intelligence, to their knowledge, that implicated Trump as a colluder with Vladimir Putin to gain advantage over Clinton. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson seconded that consensus by conceding there was no evidence of any Trump campaign effort to persuade the Russian to alter the elections. In a more general sense, Barack Obama (who had intelligence reports of Russian election-cycle hacking) three weeks before the election, and the assumed certain victory of Hillary Clinton, had dismissed entirely the idea that any party could taint a U.S. election. Obama went on to accuse Trump of whining for even suggesting that the impending election might be questioned by impropriety.
Even news producers at CNN, the chief engine that drove the collusion fairy tale, were caught on camera admitting that the entire story was mostly “bulls—t”. And one producer added, “And so I think the president is probably right to say, ‘Look, you are witch hunting me.’” Recently, three staffers, including a reporter and an executive editor, resigned from CNN in disgrace for peddling more fake news accounts of collusion between Trump and the Russians.
Who Really Blew the Election?
The logic of the collusion yarn was always somewhat ridiculous.
Hillary Clinton lost the election largely for three reasons, none of them having anything to do with Russia, and all within her power to have rectified.
1) Clinton was a poor candidate: prone to offensive outbursts, appearing haughty and curt, mired in a variety of email server and Clinton Foundation scandals, whose voice, mannerisms, and attitude turned off precisely those middle-class voters critical to her candidacy;
2) Strategically, Clinton ran an incompetent campaign, turning over its direction to an inexperienced amateur and thirtysomething Robby Mook, who wasted resources by strangely believing that it was more important to run up a mandate by flipping solidly red states than first ensuring that her “blue wall” was secure;
3) Clinton never offered a political message other than the novelty of becoming the first female president. She failed to appreciate that Obama’s progressivism had grown unpopular, while his transient 2016 personal popularity and past Electoral College success were not transferrable to a white 69-year-old multimillionaire like herself—even as the downside of his negatives and his unpopular agenda certainly were.
Who Appeased the Russians?
Prior to November 2016 any writ of Russian collusion was usually lodged against the Obama Administration. Its much heralded but failed “reset” policy had been aimed at George W. Bush’s supposed overreaction in 2008 to Putin’s aggression in Georgia.
Reset was always marketed by ridiculing Bush and overturning his estrangement with Putin: missile-defense in eastern Europe dropped; Russian cyberattacks unanswered; private, hot-mic assurances that Obama would need “space” for Putin not to press him before the election so he could later, when reelected, respond with “flexibility” (a de facto admission of a sort of election-era collusion); ridicule accorded Mitt Romney by Obama for stating that Putin’s Russia was an existential enemy.
align=”left” Indeed, most prominent Republicans were long at odds with the Obama Administration’s inexplicable appeasement of Putin as he gobbled up Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and, on an American invitation, reentered the Middle East after a Russian hiatus of more than 45 years.
Indeed, most prominent Republicans were long at odds with the Obama Administration’s inexplicable appeasement of Putin as he gobbled up Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and, on an American invitation, reentered the Middle East after a Russian hiatus of more than 45 years. House Intelligence Committee leader Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) had harped for years on the dangers of unanswered Russian aggression, the administration’s intelligence failures, and the existential threat Putin had posed to American interests—most dramatically by hiring hackers to distort American campaigns.
How the media was able in a matter of hours after the election to rebrand Democrats as anti-Russian hawks and Republicans as colluders with Putin is one of the strangest and yet most successful political fabrications in recent history.
Genesis of a Lie
To understand the Russian metamorphosis, it is important to return to the last few months of the 2016 campaign. Hillary Clinton enjoyed a wide lead in nearly almost all the polls. Esteemed prognosticators insisted that her odds of winning the Electoral College were more than 80 percent. The media, eager to push a Democratic narrative, the progressive Left, and Never Trump conservatives ritually denounced a buffoonish sure loser Donald Trump. All gleefully vied with each other in predicting just how much damage Trump’s catastrophic loss would do to the Republican Party.
Yet during bouts of Clinton’s triumphalism there was also progressive pique over a series of embarrassing leaks of private communications of the Democratic National Committee, as well as emails of Hillary Clinton’s consigliere John Podesta—apparently the work of contract hackers working for Russia hand-in-glove with Julian Assange’s Wikileaks operation (a liaison, to be fair, still denied by Assange) to ensure the correspondence enjoyed wide play.
align=”right” It was no secret that long ago Putin had developed a contempt for Obama, Clinton, and John Kerry, largely because his appeasers lectured him sanctimoniously without commensurate displays of credible deterrent force.
Given Hillary’s sizable lead, and given that it was common knowledge that Putin’s Russia had a deep antipathy for both Obama and Clinton for purported U.S. meddling in the 2012 Russian election, no one at the time paid much attention to the source of the embarrassing Wikileaks disclosures. It was no secret that long ago Putin had developed a contempt for Obama, Clinton, and John Kerry, largely because his appeasers lectured him sanctimoniously without commensurate displays of credible deterrent force.
At about the same time, Never Trump and later Clinton campaign opposition research against Trump (the 35-page “Steele dossier”), most of it easily refuted, came into the hands of James Comey’s FBI. The latter informed key government agencies of the lurid details of Trump’s “Russian ties,” as deep-state bureaucrats were leaking the salacious fantasies to the press.
Still, most pre-election media gave the Russian collusion narrative little play—given the surety of an impending Clinton victory. The smear was seen as a redundancy, a superfluous slander given Hillary’s huge mandate, perhaps even a needless headache in her post-election transition to president.
Then Trump did the unthinkable. He won.
Worse still, he got elected while losing the popular vote by 2.9 million votes and by crashing through the once solid blue-wall states—with ominous repercussions for future Democratic campaign strategies
At that point, in need of an exegesis that exonerated the Clinton campaign, and lacking a convincing political message to counter the Trump agenda, Democrats, progressive activists and the media revived the stale Russian collusion fake news story. The media, eager for ratings and clicks, fueled the con with hysterical assertions of Trump’s guilt and Mike Flynn’s treasonous behavior. Neither narrative was credible, but again both were seemingly authenticated by intelligence careerists who saw Trump as an existential threat to their own universes.
align=”left” The collusion myth certainly fit a lot of convenient stereotypes: The flamboyant wheeler-dealer Trump and his convoy of purportedly shady operatives were to be portrayed as not much different from money grubbing Russian oligarchs.
The collusion myth certainly fit a lot of convenient stereotypes: The flamboyant wheeler-dealer Trump and his convoy of purportedly shady operatives were to be portrayed as not much different from money grubbing Russian oligarchs. Surely Russia preferred the novice Trump: he presumably would be an easily manipulated dunce and “owe” Putin for the alleged Russian contract hackers, who had exposed the dirty laundry of the Clinton campaign and the DNC (warping the primaries and debates to defeat Bernie Sanders, colluding with reporters to coordinate strategies, etc.).
Trump played into the sense of hysteria by winking and nodding at the idea of Putin as something akin to a savvy manipulator rather than as the monster of failed reset. And Putin for his part obviously saw in Trump a strongman figure who might be tougher, but less self-righteous and thus in a strange way more deserving of respect as a proud leader of a rival big power. More important, in tune with traditional Russian maskorova, the strategist Putin enjoyed the deceptions and the resulting frenzied in-fighting that consumed America and calcified its policies abroad.
Still, why did the obviously silly collusion story persist in the absence of any credible evidence?
A Most Useful Idiocy
The proverbial deep state of the Obama Administration was involved in legitimizing the fraudulent Trump collusion dossier, and perhaps more still in leaking its contents. It is likely that high Obama officials surveilled the Trump campaign team, albeit under the guise of incidental sweeps during security probes. Under the guise of national security, they unmasked names and leaked them to the press. Yet after the election, the Russian narrative was no longer superfluous insurance for a sure winner, but rather become a desperate tool in delegitimizing the new president.
In the political sense, collusion also crowded out a number of other disturbing and more likely factual news. In inexplicable fashion, Barack Obama had done nothing when told that Russian hackers or contract players were trying to tap strategic communications of the Democratic Party. Why such dangerous laxity?
align=”right” Collusion and its later twin “obstruction” served other political purposes. The charges overshadowed the House Intelligence Committee’s explosive discovery that Obama officials had engaged in surveilling, unmasking, and leaking to the press.
Was it just another example of Obama innate timidity and his deer-in-the-headlights inability to act forcefully in defense of his country’s strategic interests? Or had Obama seen no need to create an incident when he was certain that Russian shenanigans would not affect Hillary’s sure win? Or was he becoming worried that there, in fact, was Clinton culpability with the Russians in a number of financial arrangements (from Bill’s honoraria to donations to the Clinton Foundations to sweetheart deals on uranium acquisitions) and that Putin might retaliate by leaking embarrassing information in such a way as to denigrate his own administration?
Collusion and its later twin “obstruction” served other political purposes. The charges overshadowed the House Intelligence Committee’s explosive discovery that Obama officials had engaged in surveilling, unmasking, and leaking to the press.
It also would help crowd out disturbing revelations from James Comey that he had acceded to Attorney General Loretta Lynch manipulations of his ongoing investigations of Hillary Clinton—coming on top of her improper secret meeting with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac amid rumors that she was promised by sure winner Hillary Clinton a continued quid pro quo tenure as attorney general.
An FBI Adrift
Collusion additionally muddied the waters about the increasing politicization of the FBI. Comey himself had improperly assumed the role of investigator, judge, and jury in the Clinton election-cycle investigations—whining about, but acceding to, obstructive pressures from Lynch, later leaking information in (successful) efforts to force appointment of a special investigator, and slavishly courting Trump in private with assurances that he was not under investigation, while covering his options by his agency’s leaking tidbits that suggested Trump was in fact being investigated for collusion.
Comey in exonerating Clinton had cited her various transgressions only to dismiss them by stating she had no demonstrable intent to commit such crimes—an exemption nowhere found in such federal statutes, an indemnity provided to no others similarly charged with federal security breaches, and proof again that Comey was neither emotionally nor professionally fit to both run an investigation and then simultaneously adjudicate its future legal trajectory.
The spouse of Comey’s top lieutenant, Andrew McCabe, had been a recent Democratic candidate for the Virginia state senate and a past recipient of huge amounts (in excess of $500,000) of progressive cash, much of it directed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally. That fact was not released by the FBI. Surely, under normal circumstances, McCabe would have been recused from the entire Clinton investigation. That McCabe also had been in a veritable feud with Michael Flynn over personnel matters since 2014 reinforced the fact that Comey’s team was incapable of investigating Hillary Clinton, and had no business trafficking in unproven and ridiculous charges of Russian collusion against Trump or insinuation that Flynn was a traitor.
align=”left” The spouse of Comey’s top lieutenant, Andrew McCabe, had been a recent Democratic candidate for the Virginia state senate and a past recipient of huge amounts (in excess of $500,000) of progressive cash, much of it directed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally. That fact was not released by the FBI.
In the matter of the phony Steele file that was at the heart of the collusion charge, the FBI somehow acquired a copy, disseminated its contents among an ever expanding circle of government grandees, and must have been aware that its lurid contents would leak to pet progressive reporters—despite its own knowledge that the dossier was a product of Never Trump and Hillary Clinton opposition research and easily refuted. (The author of the Fusion file, a private investigator and former British M-16 hand named Christopher Steele, had not been to Russia recently, had no updated information on the Putin administration, and no recent contacts with reliable Russian spies—but he was peddling a hit piece to Never Trump Republicans, then to the Hillary Clinton campaign, and finally to the forces of the deep state determined to undermine Donald Trump.
Ultimately, however, it was not just the deep state and progressive hit people that promulgated the lie of Trump as Putin’s lackey and who tried to destroy the reputation of the elected president.
A Media Unhinged
The media fed off the hysteria. In its fusion role with the Democratic Party to delegitimize Trump, journalists saw collusion as the most effective way to create a sort of national madness directed at the Trump presidency.
Just as the Democratic Party sought to challenge voting machines, tried to reinvent the Electoral College, threatened impeachment, talked of removal by the 25th Amendment or the Emolument Clause, stalled confirmations, demanded recusals, and cherry picked liberal judges in lawsuits, and as the street “Resistance” went after Trump with demonstrations, campus violence, and sick celebrity talk of presidential assassination, incest, and perversion, so too the media lent a professional patina to the Resistance with the collusion story—the glue that for the first 100 days of the Trump administration held the opposition together.
The collusion myth filled a Democratic, progressive and media need for deflecting blame for Hillary’s loss, diverting attention from real Obama administration and Clinton scandals, and delegitimizing President Trump after the election.
The collusion invention has become a sort of boomerang, bringing negative attention back to its authors and promulgators and turning over old Obama administration stones to reveal quite unsavory things beneath.
align=”right” The collusion myth filled a Democratic, progressive and media need for deflecting blame for Hillary’s loss, diverting attention from real Obama administration and Clinton scandals, and delegitimizing President Trump after the election.
It is also no exaggeration that the collusion mythology has helped to destroy CNN as a news network altogether (e.g., the Kathy Griffin decapitation act, the Anderson Cooper and Reza Aslan scatology, the periodic Jim Acosta puerile meltdowns, the constant incoherent anti-Trump harangues of Don Lemon and Fareed Zakaria, the CNN fake news report that Comey would refute Trump’s assertion that he was told that he was not under investigation, the recent firing of three marquee reporters for fabricating another anti-Trump news account, the tapes capturing a CNN producer confessing to the absence of any support for CNN’s collusion trope, the Harvard Kennedy Center study showing that CNN coverage of Trump was 93 percent negative, etc.)
In sum, the collusion mythology fit a preconceived need.
Had it not existed, some equally groundless hit-piece would have had to be invented.
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