On the one hand, we know what happened: nothing. Neither Donald Trump nor anyone in his 2016 campaign, family, or businesses “colluded” with Russia or with any other foreign power to steal the 2016 election.
But, really, we knew this already. By “we” I here mean anyone not insane and/or in the grip of a monomaniacal anti-Trump rage. The story was, from the beginning, so ridiculous on its face, so devoid of even the flimsiest evidence, that no one not desperate to believe bought it for a second.
I would include in that “we” also those few who forced themselves to take the story seriously, through all its mind-numbing twists and turns, despite its obvious implausibility. That’s more than I can say for myself; I never could muster the mental energy to follow the details, the same way I can’t bring myself to spend any time on 9/11 “truthism.” But journalists such as Mollie Hemingway, Catherine Herridge, Chuck Ross, Kim Strassel, Byron York, Julie Kelly, and Tucker Carlson (and too few others ), by wedging their minds open, just in case any evidence were to emerge, are in the catbird seat right now.
Not that anyone in the corporate-Left media (CLM) will give them credit. To the contrary, the moment Mueller delivered his report to the Attorney General and informed a distraught media that no further indictments would be forthcoming, the cable shows and Twitter have been desperately searching for a silver lining. Drumpf must have done something! Just because he’s “not guilty” by some arcane legal standard doesn’t mean he’s innocent!
They’re right on one point, though not in the way they think. There’s plenty of guilt to go around. But it all resides with them, broadly understood: the media, of course (reporters and pundits alike); the tippy-top Obama Administration officials who engineered this farce; the deep state operatives who helped them and kept it going once the Obamanauts were out of office; the Democratic Party; the Hillary campaign; the Clintons themselves; the elite law firm that offered itself up as a cutout; plus the special counsel himself and his team, who must have known long ago that their original remit would never pan out but kept going (for 674 days and $50 million) anyway.
Which is to say: the most powerful individuals, institutions and interests in America conspired to set up a presidential candidate, and later president-elect, and later still President. Their goal? To defeat him in 2016; should he be elected, to prevent his taking office; and should he take office, to have him removed. And yet it’s precisely these people who accused (and, in many cases, still accuse) Mr. Trump of “stealing” and “rigging” an election, of “subverting our democracy.” This is projection on an unimaginable scale. As Carlson likes to point out, whatever the modern Left accuses its enemies of doing, you can be sure that’s exactly what they’re doing.
“Set up” is actually generous. RussiaGate was not the deliciously complex framing orchestrated by a criminal-mastermind villain in an Agatha Christie novel. The Russia-collusion narrative was, to the contrary, ham-fisted and preposterous from the beginning—so transparently dumb that the only way to believe it was to be dumb yourself, or else desperately to want to believe.
Alas, most people fooled by SetUpGate—for the real scandal deserves a more accurate name—fall into the latter category. They wanted—and still want—to believe that Trump is guilty of colluding with a foreign power to win the 2016 election. For them, SetUpGate is just a tent pole on which to hang their real desires. Few have the imagination or the will to conjure into being a false narrative that others can rally around. But most need such a narrative in order to rally. Lucky for them, human nature provides a small but steady supply of bold liars to create new narratives. Which is why a persistent feature of our corrupt times are fake stories—“Hands up, don’t shoot!”; “indelible in the hippocampus”; “He smirked!”; “This is MAGA country!”—designed to froth up the faithful.
This, at root, is all SetUpGate is, or ever was: a story for people already anti-Trump to seize upon, to allow them to frame their opposition as something deeper and higher-minded than “White nationalism!!” or “Orange Man Bad.”
Others were the first to call SetUpGate the biggest political scandal in American history. It is that, of course, but it’s also something else, something bigger, something worse: the largest—by far—instance of elite malfeasance in American history.
It’s illuminating to contrast SetUpGate with another fiasco: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Both are examples of elite-government failure, but the lessons emerge from the differences.
“Truther” conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the officials in charge of protecting America from terrorist attack did not want 9/11 to happen. They were acting not to make something happen but to prevent an unquestionable harm to our country. Their failure therefore hurt us all. But also, since their intentions were good, the blame settled on them had the character of shared sadness: those who failed no less than those whom they failed—i.e., the entire country—regretted the failure. Hence most everyone—citizen and official alike—wanted answers. A Commission was duly formed to find those answers. And, in fact, many were found.
SetUpGate was—thank God—no less a failure, but a failure of an entirely different kind. The elites who failed were acting affirmatively, pushing a project, not merely trying to prevent something bad. Though, of course, their project was itself bad, which is why we should all be elated that they failed. Yet, unlike in the aftermath of 9/11, opinion about their failure is divided. Those who support President Trump are of course elated that they failed. Those who are actually sincere when they claim to care about democracy, even if they don’t like Trump, should at least be relieved. And those who oppose him and don’t care at all about democracy, or who identify “democracy” with their own interests and preferences, are crushed.
Those in the first two categories should want answers. Those in the third naturally do not. But answers there must be. How did this happen? How did our every institution, public and private, and hundreds—possibly even thousands—of privileged, educated, credentialed and supposedly well-meaning people in positions of power and trust get something so big, so wrong, on purpose? How did they—how were they allowed to—act deliberately and directly against their supposed charges and responsibilities, consistently, for more than two-and-a-half years?
If American institutions—public and private—are ever to regain even a modicum of trust and legitimacy, a full reckoning must occur. If it does not—if those responsible refuse to explain, fully, their culpability, their actions, their decisions, their outrageous rhetoric, their lies—then those institutions will become husks, empty shells. A fate they will deserve.
Ideally, this reckoning would proceed on two tracks: first, each affected institution would investigate itself; second, the government would use its powers to mount a comprehensive investigation of its own. The latter would examine governmental misconduct, but also—as did the 9/11 and other commissions—the misconduct of all relevant actors, public and private.
But even to make this suggestion is to laugh. We all know that none of this will ever happen. The media will spend not one nanosecond in introspection or soul-searching—neither as an industry, nor as individual organizations. It will instead—as it is already doing—pour its energies into retroactive self-justification and desperate hair-splitting to keep the dream alive. Mueller did not exonerate Trump! He only said he couldn’t “establish” that any collusion took place, not that he could prove that no collusion took place! And he explicitly declined to exonerate Trump for obstruction!
The media and their Democratic Party masters will go on like this for, roughly, ever. The massive number of unforced errors they committed during the whole fiasco—the huge catalogue of false stories they broadcast and published—they will excuse, as again they already are excusing, as examples of their righteous zeal to get “information” and “news” to the public as quickly as possible. There will be no reckoning, and no one will pay a price.
The government, or parts of it, likely will conduct quick, desultory “investigations,” the purposes of which will not be to get to the truth but to “do something” so that they can say they did. The posture will be “We investigated this, found a few process missteps, reassigned one or two people and rebuked others (we won’t say who), and you can trust us now. We cleaned our own house.” Only a fool or a true believer will believe a word of that.
So what, then, is to be done? Here’s a suggestion. A lot of money is donated and spent by the Right every year. Why not commit a couple hundred grand of that to a small team of investigative reporters and researchers to do the job that all the complicit organizations will not do? To do what the press ostensibly exists to do but will not? Granted, such an investigation—lacking subpoena and other official powers—will be far less effective than a real investigation with teeth. But since we know the latter will never happen, why make the perfect the enemy of the as-good-as-it’s-gonna-get?
Here are some of the questions I suggest they look into. This is by no means a comprehensive list, since I am far from a leading expert on SetUpGate. Therefore I further suggest that, once the money is committed and this new investigation gets rolling, those leading it immediately consult the people named above on what lines of inquiry to pursue. Or, even better, why not hire some of them?
- Who made the initial decision to hire Fusion GPS to do opposition research on Trump? Was it Hillary herself? Bill? Someone lower down in the Clinton campaign? Someone in the Democratic Party? Who?
- Did Fusion GPS decide on its own to make the focus of its “research” alleged “collusion with Russia”? Or did they do so in collaboration with the Clinton campaign? If so, with whom? When did those conversations take place?
- What did Hillary and Bill know and when did they know it? When did they learn that opposition research they paid for was alleging that Trump was compromised by, or even working directly with, Russia? Did they ever raise objections or have any misgivings? Who, in total, on the Clinton campaign and that DNC knew of the campaign’s/Party’s role in creating the dossier? Did anyone in either organization raise any objections or have any misgivings?
- Previous reporting suggests that the notorious “dossier” was merely the tip of the iceberg of a much larger opposition research effort focused on alleged Trump-Russia collusion. What other products were created? By whom? What were their contents and allegations? With whom were they shared in government and the media? What was the Clintons’ direct or indirect involvement?
- Whose idea was it to pay Fusion through a law firm in order to hide the campaign’s involvement? Who specifically at Perkins Coie approved the use of his (or her) firm for this purpose? Did the firm’s entire senior leadership know or were some kept in the dark? If so, why? Were any criminal or civil statutes broken? Were any national or state bar association ethical rules violated?
- How, exactly, and through whom, did the dossier and other Russia-related opposition “research” get into the hands of the U.S. government? Who specifically within the federal government came up with the idea to use that “research”—including but limited to the dossier—to obtain warrants to spy on the Trump campaign? Who approved that idea? Who knew about it?
- What were all the ways the “dossier” and other such “research” were fed to the U.S. government? We know it got into the hands of the FBI, the Justice Department and the State Department (the latter fact is still little recognized). How many government agencies received this information? Which ones specifically? Which officials? Under what circumstances did they receive it? Who, specifically, gave it to them and when? What were the political and institutional affiliations of those who provided the information?
- What were the exact circumstances of how the FBI obtained its surveillance warrants on Trump’s campaign team? That is to say, what did officials tell—and what did they withhold from—the judges from whom they obtained those warrants? Were the judges, as has been suggested in some reporting, deliberately misled so as to issue warrants that, had they known all the facts, they would not have issued?
- What persons either formally employed by or affiliated with the Trump campaign, did the U.S. government telephonically surveil? Name them all. Who authorized such surveillance and on what explicit justification? Who knew about the surveillance and when?
- To what extent did the U.S. government rely on human spies—aka “HUMINT”—to surveil the Trump campaign? When did that effort begin? How many such spies were employed? Who were they? For whom did they work? Who ordered the use of such spies and on what explicit justification? Who were those spies “targets”—i.e., on whom did they spy? Who in the U.S. government knew about this operation? Did anyone in the Clinton campaign know about it?
- What did the Obama team know and when did they know it? When all this was coming together, Barack Obama was still President. Senior members of his administration still ran all these agencies. What did they know? How involved were they? Specifically, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Loretta Lynch, Sally Yates, James Clapper, John Brennan, Susan Rice, Avril Haines, Ben Rhodes—what did they know and when?
- Did any of them actually participate in decision-making to use the power of the state to spy on the Trump campaign? Or were they merely told about it? If the latter, were they told contemporaneously or later? Did anyone raise any objections or concerns? Explain their precise roles. If they knew, how could they not have been a part of the plot? If they did not know, how could they not have been negligent in their roles and responsibilities?
- Finally—and I’ve saved the most important for last—who leaked information from Mike Flynn’s phone conversations with the Russian ambassador? This remains the most serious—by far—actual crime committed throughout this whole sordid affair. We know this is a crime; all one has to do is read the statute. We know it happened; all one has to do is read the reporting. The only thing we don’t know is who did it. The initial leak(s) happened when the Obama Administration was still in office. There’s no way to blame Trump or anyone around Trump for this one. Who did it? Who knew about it and either approved of it or didn’t stop it?
These questions are but the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens more that demand answers just from the period before Trump took office. Broaden the inquiry to the subsequent two years and the list expands to hundreds. Include questions about the media’s conduct, and that of the former officials it hired to opine mendaciously, the list expands to thousands.
Our institutions—with few exceptions—have already demonstrated a fundamental incuriosity about all of these questions, and indeed about any questions whose answers might further impugn the reputations of said institutions.
Which is why, unless some well-resourced patriot, or patriots, step forward to bankroll a real investigation, the reckoning for which so many are clamoring will never come.
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