“The Clinton campaign got a bunch of dirty cops to frame and spy on their opponent, the Trump campaign. After Trump won, they rolled this dirty tricks operation, this spying campaign, into a coup.”
—Lee Smith, author of The Plot Against the President
The biggest scandal in American political history started with NeverTrump conservatives. Desperate to tarnish Trump’s viability as a candidate, anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats joined together to convince the public that Donald Trump was working with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Articles connecting Donald Trump’s campaign to Russian interests started appearing on conservative websites as early as March 2016.
Just two days after then-candidate Trump announced his foreign policy team in the spring of 2016, the Washington Free Beacon posted a 1,100-word hit piece on Dr. Carter Page: “Energy investor Carter Page, one of Donald Trump’s handpicked foreign policy advisers, has heavily criticized what he considers American aggression toward Russia, even comparing U.S. policy to American slavery and high-profile police shootings,” Lachlan Markay wrote on March 23, 2016. “Trump’s selection of Page may indicate the reality-star-cum-politician’s opposition to U.S. policies that counter Russian interests in key global theaters.”
Markay’s piece contained arcane details about Page’s views on Russia, including columns Page had written for obscure energy publications. (Page is a global energy consultant.) Even the most dogged reporter would have been hard-pressed to find so many specifics on an unknown campaign advisor, draft the article, and post it in less than 48 hours. How did Markay produce a lengthy article in such a short time—and why?
According to Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that helped concoct the Russian collusion hoax, a Republican Party elder connected Fusion with the Free Beacon in the summer of 2015. Fusion chief Glenn Simpson sent an email to a “longtime Republican politico” in August 2015 to pitch their expanding file of dirt on Donald Trump.
The unnamed Republican immediately expressed interest in the project; a month later, Simpson’s GOP contact informed him that the Washington Free Beacon, reportedly backed by hedge fund manager and onetime Trump adversary Paul Singer, would hire Fusion for $50,000 per month. Simpson referred to his client as a “Never Trump operation.”
The editor of the Washington Free Beacon at the time was Matthew Continetti—Bill Kristol’s son-in-law, the same Bill Kristol who, by mid-2015, was pledging to stop Donald Trump’s candidacy.
The Free Beacon’s March 2016 article was the first to claim Carter Page had an alleged affinity for Mother Russia. It offered a platform for other anti-Trump outlets on the Right to expand upon. National Review published another Page-Russia article the following month; this time, the headline and content were more brazen.
“Trump: The Kremlin’s Candidate,” cribbed many of the same links and talking points cited in Markay’s original piece. “Carter Page is an out-and-out Putinite,” declared Robert Zubrin in April 2016. “With Page providing Trump’s Russia policy, it is not surprising that the Donald has also attracted the support of other prominent Putinites.”
According to Lee Smith’s book The Plot Against the President, a series of proto-dossiers—compiled by the Free Beacon’s paid dirt-digger, Fusion GPS—predated the infamous Steele dossier, the centerpiece of the collusion scheme. “Fusion GPS was the Clinton campaign’s shadow war room and subsequently became its dirty tricks operation center,” Smith wrote. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired Fusion GPS in April 2016; the company became the nexus of the Left and NeverTrump, an alliance that would continue throughout Trump’s first term.
The Free Beacon posted a few more smear jobs on Carter Page into July, the month that the Democratic Party heavily spun its Trump-Russia collusion narrative to bury the damaging release of internal emails the week of the party’s convention to officially nominate Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate. By that time, Steele’s first installments of his dossier had been completed; the Fusion team began pitching his work to news outlets and friendly journalists in late July at the DNC’s coronation of Hillary in Philly.
On July 21, 2016, Commentary’s Noah Rothman openly doubted Trump’s loyalty to America and suggested the business tycoon favored Russia over the United States. In his article, “Trump’s Great Russia and Our Expense,” Rothman ticked off a number of Fusion GPS–produced talking points. Then Rothman posed this ridiculous question: “In the zero-sum game of geopolitics, it long ago became crystal clear that Russia’s national interests and America’s national interests are mutually exclusive. So just whose side is Donald Trump on?”
A few days later, on July 24, the Weekly Standard published a telling piece titled “Putin’s Party?” The author explained why voters should be troubled by disturbing ties between the Kremlin and Trump campaign associates Page, Paul Manafort, and Lt. General Mike Flynn. “These indications provide sufficient grounds for Trump’s links to Putin to be further investigated.”
The author of the piece? Bill Kristol, the magazine’s editor-in-chief at the time. His son-in-law still had Fusion on retainer for the Free Beacon. (Continetti denied any ties to the Steele dossier.)
Kristol’s article mimicked accusations of Trump-Russia collusion hawked by Fusion GPS in the summer of 2016. Tom Nichols followed Kristol’s report with a tweetstorm sketching Trump’s fealty to Russia and questioning his patriotism. Calling Trump “Putin’s poodle,” Mona Charen penned a lengthy column about the Trump-Putin bond: “Trump bats his eyes at Putin like a schoolgirl with a crush,” she wrote on July 28, 2016. At the Washington Post on the same day, Jennifer Rubin was vexed about why “Trump . . . is so deferential toward Russia’s authoritarian bully.”
The ensconced, and in some instances nepotistic, fiefdom of the anti-Trump conservative commentariat acted as its own Trump-Russia collusion echo chamber; but unlike their colleagues on the Left, NeverTrump’s audience was nervous Republican voters.
Fusion GPS fed its anti-Trump propaganda to conservative influencers who, in turn, warned their followers about the Putin stooge at the top of the Republican ticket. As the earliest narrators of the collusion fable, NeverTrumpers—editors and writers for the Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary, and others—were heavily invested in discouraging Republicans from voting for Trump based on the fiction that he would work in Putin’s interests and not America’s.
NeverTrump would remain prolific peddlers of collusion hype, helping the Democrats mislead the American public for three years that the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Kremlin prior to Election Day.
In the process, NeverTrump abetted the biggest con job in American political history while covering up the legitimate scandal, one that will be documented as the most egregious abuse of federal power ever wielded against a U.S. presidential campaign.
The same month that Markay published his first Page hit piece in the Free Beacon, former FBI director James Comey met with former attorney general Loretta Lynch to discuss his “concerns” about the Trump campaign volunteer. As conservative commentators ginned up the public relations end of the scam, Comey and Obama’s top national security chiefs orchestrated the inside job.
Something else consequential happened in March 2016: Florida senator Marco Rubio suspended his campaign, following in the failed footsteps of 12 other Republican candidates who had already dropped out of the race. Trump, Texas senator Ted Cruz, and Ohio governor John Kasich were the three men left standing.
And it was increasingly obvious who would prevail.
But a Trump presidency, no matter how unlikely, was unacceptable to the Obama White House.
President Barack Obama held deep animus toward Donald Trump for spreading rumors about Obama’s birthplace. During the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011, Obama mocked Trump, in attendance at the event, for his “birther” conspiracy theory about the then-president. After roasting The Donald for several minutes, Obama showed a cartoon of an imaginary Trump White House, ornamented with gold columns and bikini-clad women.
A few weeks before Election Day, Obama appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show to read a series of mean tweets: One tweet was from Trump, saying Obama would go down as “perhaps the worst president in the history of the United States.” Obama, not amused, looked into the camera and declared, “At least I will go down as a president.” He then stared into the camera and dropped his cell phone.
Obama never forgave Trump for raising doubts about where the president was born. (In fact, during one of his last White House briefings, Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, intimated that the entire Russian collusion scheme was revenge for Trump’s birtherism. “The president-elect and his team are suggesting that the accusations [about Russian collusion] that are being made are totally unfounded, that there’s no basis for them. This president has been in a situation in which he has been criticized in an utterly false, baseless way. And I’m, of course, referring to the president’s birthplace,” Earnest said on January 11, 2017, the day after BuzzFeed published the entire dossier authored by Fusion GPS hired gun Christopher Steele.)
Weaned in the cutthroat world of Chicago politics, where every public agency from the school system to the Department of Streets and Sanitation is leveraged for either maximum political gain or damage, Obama would have no qualms about using the federal government’s most powerful tools against his biggest rival. The Obama administration had already been caught using the Internal Revenue Service to punish Tea Party organizers before his 2012 reelection campaign.
Further, Obama and his partisan toadies who populated key agencies needed to redirect public and internal outrage over the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s illicit email server. Although Comey concluded Clinton had mishandled classified material, he announced in July 2016 he would not recommend charges against her.
That very same month, Comey’s FBI opened a counterintelligence probe into four individuals connected to the Trump campaign: Page, Manafort, Flynn, and George Papadopoulos, another foreign policy advisor. The operation was called “Crossfire Hurricane,” a line from the Rolling Stones song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” It involved deploying informants into the campaign and manipulating a secret court to get authorization to surveil Carter Page for a year. The CIA and State Department were in on the scheme, too.
At the same time, a media blitz bolstered the FBI’s alleged suspicions about sketchy ties between Team Trump and the Kremlin. That effort was coordinated by Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS’s co-founder, and his paid operative, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
His so-called dossier of unproven and outlandish accusations against Trump and others was not only cited as evidence in an application prepared by Comey’s FBI and submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in October 2016 to obtain a warrant against Page; it was circulated among the media and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill, both Republicans and Democrats. Dossier-sourced articles claiming senior government officials had intelligence from a former British spy that proved Trump-Russia election collusion appeared in Yahoo! News and Mother Jones before Election Day.
Thanks to Fusion GPS’s handiwork, the Trump campaign spent the last few months of the election season fending off allegations of fealty to Russia. An official statement from Obama’s intelligence community in October 2016 confirmed Russia’s plans to mess with the election. The trap had been set to smear Trump with Russian dirt; nearly everyone in the political universe, including NeverTrump, participated in the con.
Then Trump won. The con continued—but after the election, the stakes were much higher. Removing Trump from the Oval Office on suspicions his campaign team had helped the Russians influence the outcome of the election in his favor, and worse, that his presidency would act in service to Vladimir Putin, became the Democrats’ sole crusade.
And NeverTrump played right along.
Post-Election Collusion With NeverTrump
During an annual security conference in Nova Scotia shortly after the 2016 election, a few high-level officials gathered privately to discuss the outcome and Russia’s alleged influence. One person in the meeting had a deep-seated grudge against the incoming president: Arizona Senator John McCain.
McCain huddled with former British diplomat Sir Andrew Wood and David Kramer, a McCain confidant who worked for the senator’s nonprofit, on the evening of November 16 in Halifax. Wood briefed McCain about accusations contained in the Steele dossier, which he described as “raw, unverified intelligence,” according to McCain’s 2018 autobiography, The Restless Wave.
Wood vouched for Steele’s credibility, McCain wrote, assuring the senator that the former MI6 agent had dependable Russian contacts and a solid reputation. The group began discussing the contents of the dossier. “Our impromptu meeting felt charged with a strange intensity,” McCain described. “No one wisecracked to lighten the mood. We spoke in lowered voices. I was taken aback. They were shocking allegations.”
One charge—that the Russians had a tape recording of Russian prostitutes urinating in front of Trump in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton in 2013—was so preposterous that it should’ve immediately raised a red flag about the document’s veracity.
Nonetheless, McCain directed Kramer to travel to the UK to meet with Steele. But the British operative did not give Kramer a copy of the dossier at that meeting in his London home on November 28, 2016. Instead, Steele arranged for Kramer to meet with Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS’s chief, in Washington the next day; Simpson provided one of McCain’s top advisors with a copy of the sketchy political propaganda. (In his book, Crime in Progress, coauthored with Peter Fritsch, Simpson admitted he and Kramer had a working relationship dating back nearly a decade.)
After Kramer gave the dossier to McCain, the senator later handed it off to FBI director James Comey, who already had the document. Forwarding partisan dirt to the head of the nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency, McCain later explained in his book, was in the country’s national security interest. “I did my duty, as I’ve sworn an oath to do,” McCain preened in his customary self-aggrandizing way. “Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell.”
But McCain’s imprimatur on Trump-Russia election collusion would be a crucial contribution to legitimizing the scam. Embracing his long-standing act as a “maverick,” McCain clearly welcomed the opportunity to work as Trump’s foil from the same side of the political aisle. That gave NeverTrump pundits the backing of arguably the most influential Republican senator, one who still commanded respect from rank-and-file Republicans despite his two losing presidential bids.
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain wielded his post to inflict maximum damage on the incoming administration. He wasted no time scheduling a hearing into Russia’s “attack” on the 2016 election. On January 5, 2017, as the Trump transition team planned to take control of the White House, McCain’s committee heard testimony from top government officials, including former director of national intelligence James Clapper, an architect of the hoax, about Putin’s predations.
During one exchange between McCain and Clapper, the pair implied that the Kremlin’s social media skullduggery might have changed votes from Clinton to Trump. “We have no way of gauging the impact . . . it had on choices the electorate made,” Clapper told McCain. “There’s no way for us to gauge that.” McCain further intimated that if Russian social media tinkering actually did change any votes, it would be an act of “war” against the United States.
The message was clear: McCain goaded Clapper into saying publicly that there was a chance that Russian Facebook memes swayed people to vote for Donald Trump. The new president had been illegitimately elected thanks to chicanery from an American adversary. Enough gullible voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan had been brainwashed by weird Russian social media posts to put Trump over the finish line. And the man hinting that might have been the case was a Republican stalwart—one whom the Trump-hating Beltway media corps adored and NeverTrump revered.
Further, the official intelligence buttressing the claim that Russia hacked the election was specious at best, sloppy and dishonest at worst. Former CIA director John Brennan and Clapper finished the report in less than 25 days in December 2016. The flimsy document hardly provided the fides to justify howls about Russia “attacking our democracy” after Election Day.
Either McCain knew the intelligence was thin gruel or he was duped again by intelligence officers with an ulterior motive.
All of it started to feel eerily familiar. Sketchy intelligence touted by powerful politicians as evidence of an imminent threat to justify action against a foreign foe for domestic political purposes. I’m referring, of course, to weapons of mass destruction. It’s not a coincidence that most of the very same people, McCain in particular, pushing Russian collusion based on the thinnest trove of “evidence” also successfully convinced the American people that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
In between the two scandals was more than a decade of recriminations against once-trusted experts on the Right who led our nation into battle. The Iraq war cost the lives of more than 4,400 U.S. troops, maimed tens of thousands more and resulted in an unquantifiable amount of emotional, mental, and physical pain for untold numbers of American military families. Suicide rates for servicemen and veterans have exploded leaving thousands more dead and their families devastated. And it has cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion and counting.
So, these discredited outcasts thought they found in the Trump-Russia collusion farce a way to redeem themselves in the news media and recover their lost prestige, power, and paychecks. After all, it cannot be a mere coincidence that a group of influencers on the Right who convinced Americans 16 years ago that we must invade Iraq based on false pretenses are nearly the identical group of people who tried to convince Americans that Donald Trump conspired with the Russians to rig the 2016 election, an allegation also based on hearsay and specious evidence.
The verbiage and tone NeverTrump used to warn the country about collusion were eerily similar to those of the WMD alarms:
Bill Kristol in 2003: “We look forward to the liberation of our own country and others from the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and to the liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal and sadistic tyrant.”
Bill Kristol in 2018: “It seems to me likely Mueller will find there was collusion between Trump associates and Putin operatives; that Trump knew about it; and that Trump sought to cover it up and obstruct its investigation. What then? Good question.”
John McCain in 2003: “I believe that, obviously, we will remove a threat to America’s national security because we will find there are still massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
John McCain in 2017: “There’s a lot of aspects with this whole relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin that requires further scrutiny. In fact, I think there’s a lot of shoes to drop from this centipede. This whole issue of the relationship with the Russians and who communicated with them and under what circumstances clearly cries out for an investigation.”
David Frum in 2002 (writing for President George W. Bush): “States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”
David Frum in 2016: “I never envisioned an Axis of Evil of which one of the members was the U.S. National Security Adviser.”
Max Boot in 2003: “I hate to disappoint all the conspiracy-mongers out there, but I think we are going into Iraq for precisely the reasons stated by President Bush: to destroy weapons of mass destruction, to bring down an evil dictator with links to terrorism, and to enforce international law.”
Max Boot in 2019: “If this is what it appears to be, it is the biggest scandal in American history—an assault on the very foundations of our democracy in which the president’s own campaign is deeply complicit. There is no longer any question whether collusion occurred. The only questions that remain are: What did the president know? And when did he know it?”
Bush’s FBI director at the time publicly testified about the looming global menace posed by Iraq’s stockpile of deadly materials. “Secretary [of State Colin] Powell presented evidence last week that Baghdad has failed to disarm its weapons of mass destruction,” Mueller told the Senate in 2003. Those weapons, the FBI director warned, could be supplied to terrorist organizations around the world.
A report issued two years after the invasion excoriated the intelligence community. “We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” concluded a special commission in 2005. “This was a major intelligence failure.” (Senator McCain served on the commission.)
The FBI director pushing the weapons of mass destruction line in 2003—Robert Mueller—would become the central figure, and arguably the most powerful man in Washington, leading the two-year investigation into whether Donald Trump colluded with the Russians before the election. History would repeat itself in an uncanny way.
It’s Mueller Time
Throughout the spring of 2017, the drumbeat of Trump-Russia collusion intensified along with calls for a special counsel. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor, didn’t last a month in the West Wing. Flynn resigned on February 14, 2017, amid an orchestrated campaign between Obama holdovers in the administration and the news media that portrayed Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian ambassador as either traitorous or a violation of the Logan Act. That law, which has been on the books for 220 years without a single conviction, prohibits U.S. citizens from communicating with foreign powers to “defeat the measures of the United States.” The so-called “dead letter” law was exhumed before Election Day; beginning in the summer of 2016, Democrats regularly accused Trump of violating the Logan Act for various comments about Russia.
McCain, breaching his own rule of not attacking military heroes, accused Flynn of “lying” to the vice president about his pre-inaugural conversations with Sergey Kislyak and said Flynn’s resignation raised “further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin.”
In March 2017, James Comey finally confessed to the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee that he had opened a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 based on suspicious activity with Russian interests. (Rep. Elise Stefanik would force Comey to admit that he violated House protocol by withholding that information from congressional leaders for eight months.) Comey’s sneakiness, however, was portrayed as protecting “sensitive” law enforcement activities rather than intentional deceit.
In April, the Washington Post disclosed the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant against Carter Page; the government told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Page was a foreign agent of Russia. (The reporting on both Flynn and Page was based on illegal leaks of classified government information, a felony for which no one has been either charged or convicted.)
McCain and other NeverTrumpers insisted that a separate, full-scale investigation would be necessary. “This whole issue with the relationship with the Russians and who communicated with them and under what circumstances clearly beg, cries out for investigation,” McCain told Jake Tapper on CNN in March 2017. “We should not assume guilt until we have a thorough investigation.” “The situation begs for a bipartisan, transparent investigation,” David French wrote.
Then the coup de grace: On May 9, 2017, Trump fired Comey. The dismissal was portrayed as an attempt to stop Comey from probing Trump’s ties to the Kremlin; it quickly became the Democrats’ latest impeachment fodder.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller, a Comey pal, as the special counsel tasked with rooting out evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. (Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, ill-advisedly recused himself in March 2017 from any matters related to Russia based on his own innocuous contacts with Kislyak. This empowered the Obama-appointed Rosenstein to take control of the Justice Department’s inquiry into Trump-Putin ties.)
NeverTrump seized the moment. Mueller, they were convinced, would doom Trump’s presidency. His unfettered inquiry, commandeered by a team stacked with partisan prosecutors, surely would produce evidence of impeachable offenses that would quickly dispatch Trump from the Oval Office. No comparison designed to underscore the gravity of the situation would be considered out of bounds: Max Boot compared alleged Russian election interference to 9/11.
For the next two years, NeverTrump tended to the right flank of the Trump-Russia collusion front. This primarily involved protecting Mueller’s investigation.
“The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference with the 2016 election is now entering a new and critical phase,” a group of NeverTrumpers wrote in a November 2017 letter addressed to Paul Ryan, then-Speaker of the House. “We would regard dismissal of the special counsel, or pardons issued preemptively to anyone targeted by his investigation, as a grave abuse of power that justifies initiation of impeachment proceedings. It is morally imperative that the Republican Party and the conservative movement stand as bulwarks of the rule of law, not enablers of its erosion and violation. Now is the time for choosing.”
It was signed by more than two dozen NeverTrumpers, including Bill Kristol, Mona Charen, Max Boot, and Evan McMullin.
As Trump regularly expressed his outrage at Mueller’s spiraling “witch hunt,” NeverTrump rallied around the special counsel and demanded that Republican lawmakers “protect” Robert Mueller. Kristol formed a group called Republicans for the Rule of Law, which produced television ads touting Mueller’s military valor, integrity, and legal reputation. The group bought airtime on Sunday news programs and Fox News.
As the investigation progressed, it became hard to distinguish between NeverTrump and Democrat Adam Schiff, the leading collusion propagandist in the House, who promised for three years that “clear” evidence of collusion existed.
The End Is Near
In embarrassing fashion given the final result, NeverTrump salivated at every rumor, accusation, interrogation, charge, arrest, and raid initiated by Team Mueller, confident that the special counsel would soon haul Donald Trump out of the Oval Office in handcuffs; perhaps a few of his children would be arrested, too.
Hardly a day passed when some NeverTrumper didn’t chortle that Trump’s days were numbered or the walls were closing in or the end was near.
After Comey’s June 2017 Senate testimony to complain about his firing set the stage for impeachment based on an obstruction of justice case, Jennifer Rubin warned that it was a turning point for Republicans. “Before Comey, impeachment talk was not a real concern for Republicans. After Comey, [it] surely will be a referendum on Trump, and specifically whether he should be impeached—unless, of course, Republicans decide to cut their losses and get rid of him before the midterms.”
NeverTrump frequently defended the contents of the Steele dossier and assured the public that Fusion’s Glenn Simpson, under increasing scrutiny throughout 2017, was the real deal. His former Wall Street Journal colleague Bret Stephens attested to Simpson’s sterling reputation; the White House and the president, warned Stephens, should be “terrified” about Simpson’s congressional testimony. “Glenn is a very serious, capable journalist. He’s not a partisan…If he has politics, I’m not aware of them,” Stephens said on MSNBC about the Clinton/DNC hired gun. Tom Nichols continued to insist the dossier was “raw intelligence” even after everyone else acknowledged that it was nothing more than fabricated political dirt.
Bill Kristol was giddy after the FBI’s raid of Michael Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room in the summer of 2018. He could hardly contain his glee on the set of CNN. “This is war. This shows we are very close to the end game,” he assured his ecstatic CNN panelists in April 2018. Kristol later would claim that “reality has changed” after Cohen’s guilty plea. Even though the charges had nothing to do with Russian collusion, Kristol questioned whether, deep down, it was true.
“This week was the worst of Donald Trump’s presidency. But it seems likely there will be worse still,” Charlie Sykes warned when Mueller snagged both Manafort and Cohen.
David French claimed Mueller’s December 2018 sentencing memo on Michael Cohen “may well outline the roadmap for an impeachment count against the president that is based on recent presidential precedent. Donald Trump’s legal problems continue to mount.”
After the New York Times reported in July 2017 that Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign associates met with a so-called “Russian lawyer” allegedly connected to the Kremlin a few months before the election, NeverTrumpers insisted the brief confab amounted to campaign collusion.
David French concluded that the meeting met the definition of collusion. “To repeat, it now looks as if the senior campaign team of a major-party presidential candidate intended to meet with an official representative of a hostile foreign power to facilitate that foreign power’s attempt to influence an American election,” French wrote in National Review in July 2017. “Russian collusion claims are no longer the exclusive province of tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. No American—Democrat or Republican—should defend the expressed intent of this meeting.”
(Evidence would later show that the “Russian lawyer” was working with Glenn Simpson on behalf of a Russian company in trouble with the U.S. government. Simpson and Natalia Veselnitskaya met both before and after the Trump Tower meeting. No damning information about Hillary Clinton was shared with the participants.)
NeverTrump mocked a three-star general after he accepted a plea deal with Mueller’s team in December 2017. Mike Flynn’s guilty plea to one process crime elicited cheers from NeverTrump. “Michael Flynn going to jail? Unlike Paul, can’t make $11 Million bail. Or maybe against Trump, he’ll have to wail. This whole presidency is one big fail,” Ana Navarro snarked on Twitter.
Even the most ludicrous, unfounded charges of collusion meant doom for the president. “Big news: Mueller reportedly has evidence that Michael Cohen did travel to Prague in 2016, lending credence to Chris Steele’s reporting that Cohen secretly met a Kremlin figure there to strategize about Moscow’s election assistance to President Trump,” Evan McMullin tweeted in the spring of 2018. Mueller concluded Cohen never traveled to Prague; it was another dossier-fabricated collusion talking point.
Jonah Goldberg erroneously claimed that Trump campaign coordinator Sam Clovis sent George Papadopoulos to Russia to get dirt on Clinton and often parroted the head fake that Papadopoulos, and not the Fusion-sourced dossier, prompted Comey’s probe into the campaign. (Goldberg often got key details about “collusion” flat-out wrong. As late as December 2019, Goldberg had to correct a post on National Review that originally claimed the FBI hired a private cybersecurity firm to determine the Russians hacked the DNC server. Only after readers pointed out his mistake did Goldberg note that the DNC, not the FBI, hired CrowdStrike.)
Conversely, anyone attempting to uncover the legitimate, provable scandal—how the world’s most powerful law enforcement and intelligence apparatus was weaponized against a rival presidential campaign—was partaking in a “conspiracy theory.”
The very same NeverTrumpers who regurgitated every reckless charge of collusion downplayed alarming evidence of abuse at the highest level of the federal government to target Team Trump. “It’s time for partisans to ditch conspiracy theories and reach mutual agreement to follow the evidence and apply the law to the facts without regard for personal affection or policy preference. Any other approach—either by pundits or politicians—fails their audience or their constituents,” lectured David French in December 2018. French often defended the FBI’s actions, even as evidence mounted that the pretext for the probe was either phony or manufactured by the FBI itself: “The FBI wasn’t abusing its power. It was fulfilling the mission the president gave it.”
Tom Nichols suggested that people digging into “FISAgate” were wearing “tin foil hats.” (NeverTrump repeatedly ridiculed Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and his effort to expose numerous offenses related to the infiltration of and investigation into Trump’s campaign.)
Sen. Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, never mentioned his concerns about the FBI’s illicit probe or expressed outrage at the behind-the-scenes activities of Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, former counterespionage chief Peter Strzok, or his lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page. There were no questions about the role of Bruce Ohr, a twice-demoted Justice Department official, and his wife’s work at Fusion GPS or both Ohrs’ relationship with Christopher Steele.
Again, NeverTrump sided with the Left not only to mislead the American people about a nonexistent collaboration between Trump and Putin, but they intentionally ignored and downplayed the real scandal as a conspiracy theory.
Defending massive abuses of federal power, which included violating the constitutional rights of private citizens, prosecuting political opponents, breaching attorney-client privilege, and illegally leaking classified information to the news media, somehow became a conservative “principle” during the Trump era. Go figure.
Mueller Report Bombs
NeverTrump speculated for two years that Robert Mueller would find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. In March 2019, Mueller submitted his long-awaited report to the Justice Department. To avoid leaks, and since Mueller had not redacted grand jury material as he was instructed, Attorney General Bill Barr released a summary of the report’s contents as it underwent the classification process.
The bottom line: Mueller’s team of skilled, partisan, vengeful prosecutors found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian state actors. (The second half of Mueller’s report outlined instances of possible obstruction of justice, but Mueller declined to make a prosecutorial recommendation.)
In April 2019, the Justice Department released a redacted copy of the 448-page Mueller Report. Its findings supported Barr’s summary.
The Mueller probe, more accurately described as a “witch hunt” by the president and his supporters, was over. The crimes NeverTrump and the Left had hoped to see never materialized.
NeverTrump was wrong, once again.
Kristol, commenting on MSNBC as the new publisher of The Bulwark, the Weekly Standard’s stepchild, griped that Team Trump was acting like the “most sore winners in the world. They’re bitter and angry and want to punish people who made the mistake of thinking there might be collusion.”
If only Kristol knew what it was like to be a winner, even a sore one. Following, again, the lead of the Democrats, NeverTrump dumped collusion and quickly embraced Mueller’s dubious and politically motivated allegations of obstruction of justice. Charlie Sykes, writing at The Bulwark, insisted the second volume of Mueller’s report was “devastating” and constituted an “open invitation to Congress to launch impeachment proceedings.”
Some NeverTrumpers, however, had a hard time letting go of their collusion dream. As late as November 2019, Max Boot insisted that “collusion evidence remains strong.” Just as they had with faulty claims about weapons of mass destruction, NeverTrump’s Iraq War promoters refused to abandon the Russian collusion narrative they helped create. And when the government produced evidence to the contrary, just as was the case with WMDs, NeverTrump refused to concede or apologize. They moved on, no penalty paid, to the next manufactured scandal while looking for new foes.