According to John Brennan, the former CIA chief, I am about to commit a public act of treason. I’ll write quickly before he can summon his allies to kick in my door and arrest me. Here goes: We’re still not sure that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election.
Brennan similarly accused the president of “treason” when Trump refused to buy into the intelligence community’s consensus that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election. Brennan tweeted, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
On “Morning Joe,” Brennan said: “And that’s why I use the term that this was ‘nothing short of treasonous.’ Because it is betrayal of the nation. He’s giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It needs to stop. And Mr. Trump needs to understand there will be consequences for him, too.”
The assumption that the Russians hacked the election is bipartisan and universally accepted. But that might just be a product of the echo chamber in which questions are crushed with derision and ridicule.
Democrats recently revived that technique to shut down debate over whether Donald Trump might have been on to something when he asked about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” all but accused Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) of being a Russian agent for daring to suggest that Ukraine may have interfered in the 2016 election.
Let’s return to what was actually said in the supposedly inappropriate phone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.
Trump asked, “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike . . . I guess you have one of your wealthy people . . . The server, they say Ukraine has it.” The intelligence community has largely relied upon Crowdstrike in reaching the conclusion that the Russians hacked the DNC servers in the 2016 election.
The “favor” Trump wanted, had nothing to do with Biden. It had to do with Crowdstrike. Is it treason (or bribery, or cattle rustling) to ask Ukraine to look into Crowdstrike? Yes, according to Democrats. Because merely asking about Crowdstrike implicitly questions the unquestionable conclusions of the intelligence community and nothing endangers our democracy like an elected president’s failure to submit to his spymasters in the CIA.
We can know with near certainty that the Left lacks confidence in their narrative by the effort they put into branding anyone who questions it as “traitors,” or collaborators with Putin. Otherwise, they would use persuasion, not intimidation, to resolve the debate.
Let’s start with the baseline question: What exactly is it that the intelligence community says the Russians did to interfere?
Nearly half of Americans believe that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to swing the election. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats believe the Russians actually changed votes in the 2016 election. Both of those beliefs should have been dispelled repeatedly but most recently by the Mueller report.
If the many spooks-turned-pundits were intellectually honest, they would be working tirelessly to stamp out these dangerous public misconceptions. The closest we’ve come is the admission from Brennan after the Mueller report failed to confirm Trump colluded with the Russians: “I may have relied upon bad information.”
Whatever peril the Russians pose to American democracy, it’s nothing compared to the danger posed by the permanent Washington bureaucracy attempting to nullify the 2016 and now the 2020 elections.
The intelligence community has accused the Russians of three avenues of interference. First, the DNC hack and subsequent dissemination of emails showing the Democrats boxed out Bernie Sanders in the primary (read the related indictment here). Second, the phishing hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s computer, which led to the public release of emails showing the media colluded with Democrats to help Clinton beat Sanders and Trump. And third, internet troll farms and ad buys to spread propaganda supporting Trump over Clinton.
Crowdstrike is relevant to the first theoretical avenue, the DNC hack. Perkins Coie hired Crowdstrike at almost the same time it also hired Fusion GPS to frame Donald Trump for colluding with the Russians. As I observed previously:
The firm the DNC hired to mitigate the hacking of the DNC server, Crowdstrike, is generally considered a reputable IT security firm. However, it did not follow its own recommendation for attributing the source of a hack. Crowdstrike recommends that clients employ third-party verification. It wrote, “public, independent and objective validation ensures you as a decision-maker are not ‘drinking a vendor’s Kool Aid.’ CrowdStrike is committed to public testing, and regularly and openly submits the CrowdStrike Falcon® platform to third-party tests that are independent, unpaid and performed on a regular basis.”
“But,” as noted by a Medium article attributed to “HomeFront Intel,” when the FBI wanted full access to the DNC server so that it could conduct a full forensic investigation, the DNC balked. Instead “… the DNC and CrowdStrike devised a strategy to take the case to the public themselves.” The FBI has since corroborated that the DNC refused to allow the FBI to examine the hacked servers. We shouldn’t blindly trust the assessment blaming the Russians when that assessment is funded by Hillary Clinton and shielded from third-party verification.
The lack of verification by a third party is compounded by questions over whether the evidence better supports an inside leaker scenario (as opposed to a Russian hacker) as the culprit. Trump asked about Crowdstrike because he wants to get to the bottom of the conspiracy to frame him for colluding with the Russians.
It appears Trump might have been confused about Ukraine’s 2016 election interference actions. Ukraine did leak a false ledger leading to the highly-damaging removal of Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort. It also coordinated with a Democratic operative to develop dirt on Trump. Somebody should tell the New York Times that it’s not supposed to publish evidence of Ukraine interfering in the election.
But it’s not clear that Ukraine had anything to do with Crowdstrike or the DNC server. Crowdstrike’s tenuous connection to Ukraine comes through Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire who donated to the Clinton Foundation and the Atlantic Council. Crowdstrike’s Russian co-founder is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
To my knowledge, nothing in the public domain corroborates Trump’s suspicion that Ukraine possesses information about Crowdstrike’s role in the 2016 election. But so what? The issue is whether the president was trying to get something for his own personal benefit by asking Ukraine about Crowdstrike. To my knowledge, no Democratic candidate in the 2020 election has anything to do with Crowdstrike. The theory is that Trump wants dirt on Crowdstrike to help him win the 2020 election. Even if Trump did obtain smoking gun evidence that the Ukrainians framed the Russians for the 2016 DNC server hack, what has that got to do with 2020? Nothing.
The second theoretical avenue for “interference,” the Podesta phishing attack, also appears in the indictment that charged Russians with the DNC hack. In March of 2016, somebody sent Podesta an email spoofing a warning that his password had been stolen. He then clicked a link that promised help in resetting his password. Thus he inadvertently gave the hackers his old password allowing them access to his emails. Vice wrote, “The phishing email that Podesta received on March 19 contained a URL, created with the popular Bitly shortening service, pointing to a longer URL that, to an untrained eye, looked like a Google link.”
Buried in the gibberish of the apparent Google link was the email name of Podesta which, Vice alleges, “hackers created…with two Bitly accounts in their control, but forgot to set those accounts to private” which allowed security firms to match the unguarded digits with known Fancy Bear accounts. Fancy Bear is believed to be a hacking ring tied to the Russians. Could the Russians have been framed by the true hacker? That might sound crazy if we didn’t know that Democratic operatives did exactly that in the Alabama Senate race in 2018. That is, they used contractors to make it appear as though their political opponent received help from Russians.
The third theoretical avenue of interference spectacularly collapsed in open court earlier this year. One of the Russian companies accused of supporting the internet troll farms, Concord, hired an attorney to fight the charges of election interference. After the Mueller report accused Concord of having the backing of the Russian government, Concord filed a motion to hold the government in contempt for making a public spectacle of an allegation it couldn’t prove. As I reported here, the government publicly abandoned any claim the Russian government supported the troll farms.
It’s difficult not to question every assumption that went into the Russia collusion hoax. If the Russians did attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, then the intelligence community totally undermined public confidence in their assessment by tying that interference to false allegations accusing Trump of conspiring with that effort.
The damage has been incalculable to American security and prestige. Not only has the collusion hoax made it impossible for Trump to normalize relations with Russia, it has undermined public confidence in our own democracy. Noting that the charge of Russia collusion is a hoax is not a conspiracy theory.
It’s a well-documented conspiracy to sabotage the voters’ desire for a peaceful transfer of power to a new president. Whatever peril the Russians pose to American democracy, it’s nothing compared to the danger posed by the permanent Washington bureaucracy attempting to nullify the 2016 and now the 2020 elections.