If We’re Gonna Impeach Trump, Let’s Make Sure We’re Clear on A Couple Points
Contrary to what folks on reddit and Twitter seem to think, I have no love for Donny “why the Civil War” Trump nor Vlad Putin’s Russia. I think that Trump asking Comey to drop the Flynn investigation is likely obstruction of justice and probably grounds for impeachment. I doubt very much that two Republican-controlled houses of congress will impeach a Republican President, regardless of how volatile or demented he seems, and Rep Green’s impeachment attempt today will likely yield little more than an “official” statement of such from Paul Ryan, but that’s how it goes.
So, now that we have what seems to be considered indisputable evidence of an impeachable offense, can we finally talk about “The Russian Thing”?
By “The Russian Thing” I mean, of course, the pall that has been cast over Trump and his administration ever since John Podesta and Robby Mook cooked up a Russian conspiracy theory to explain the loss of Hillary “America is already Great” Clinton. Readers are forgiven if they don’t recall that the original bent of this theory was that the Trump campaign (and Trump himself!) was, somehow, in collusion with the Russian government to hack the DNC and John Podesta’s servers and leak the resulting info to Wikileaks, swinging the election to Trump. This is rarely how the scandal is talked about anymore however. More often nowadays, you’ll hear about how Trump is “in bed with Russia” or “a Russian stooge” or even “Putin’s cock-holster”.
That’s because the “election hacking” story probably isn’t true.
Don’t believe me? What about the former DNI or head of the CIA? What about the democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee currently investigating the case?
Or just look at the facts.
For one, the only group to have examined the DNC’s server is Crowdstrike, a cyber-security group connected to both the DNC and the Atlantic Council, a pro-Nato anti-Russia/Iran think tank.
And Crowdstrike’s evidence for the hack is really quite remarkable. For one, they allege that the attacker must have been Russian because there were comments in the code in Cyrillic, a conclusion (as Security Researcher Robert Parr has pointed out) as ridiculous as saying a murder done with a Kalishnikov must have been committed by a Russian.
Furthermore, Crowdstrike’s conclusion (and the conclusions of other, private, security firms) that the hacking group FancyBear, or APT28, works for the Russian government is based on a 2014 report by the security firm FireEye, which baldly states that they “are not profiling all of APT28’s targets with the same detail because they are not particularly indicative of a specific sponsor’s interests.” Which is to say that they only considered information on APT28 that suggested it worked for the Kremlin in their report on whether or not APT28 worked for the Kremlin.
Julian Assange, for his part, has denied that the DNC and Podesta emails were hacked at all, saying instead that the source was an insider leak. I know a lot of people seem to think that Assange is in bed with the Russians too at this point, but it seems that that theory relies on assuming the hack story occurred as Crowdstrike says it did. Assange has addressed these claims too.
The reports released by the “Iraq has WMDs” intelligence community, (including the coast guard!) claiming confidence it was the Russians, are a joke.
They consist of a list of reasons why Russia might want to influence the election, but no actual proof they did. Which is probably why they’re qualified with the line: “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”
And don’t come at me with that “they can’t reveal the proof because then Russia will know how they found out”. If Russia wanted to know, they could just ask Ed Snowden, since his famous leaks told us all how the government would know if they did know — through the XKEYSCORE program.
Sure, I hear the skeptics saying, but what about all the other connections? There’s too much smoke for there not to be fire!
Is there though?
One point brought up a lot is that Trump requested language about arming the Nazis in Ukraine be taken out of the Republican platform. What this argument fails to acknowledge is that all this did was bring the platform in line with Obama’s policy on Ukraine, and the political mainstream. In a world where the hacking allegation was never made, this could have been seen as Trump tempering the influence of the neocon hawks on the platform.
I also wonder, if denying lethal aid to Putin’s enemies is evidence of pernicious collusion with the autocrat, what is bombing one of his allies evidence of?
Christopher Steele, the ex-Mi6 agent who released The Pee Dossier, always of dubious veracity, has begun to equivocate on it’s contents.
Well ok, you might say, but what about Manafort? What about Flynn?
Well? What about them?
A decade ago Manafort made upwards of 10 billion dollars working for Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska (what’s often not reported is that he absconded with 19 million of Deripaska’s money, money Deripaska is still trying to get back). Manafort also helped elect Yankunavich, the now-ousted president of Ukraine, who has the backing of Putin’s Russia, probably violating US lobbying laws in the process.
Flynn, for his part, got caught promising a lifting of sanctions to the Russian ambassador, apparently forgetting the wiretapping proclivities of the security state. Given how open Trump was about wanting better relations with Russia during the campaign, it’s hard to see how this phone call was all that scandalous, one has to assume the Russian Ambassador would be brought in on any US-Russia talks eventually.
The reason this is scandalous, I’m told, is because Flynn once had a paid speaking gig a dinner for RT’s (Russian State Media) 10th anniversary and sat next to Putin! He has also appeared on RT programs a few times, as he has on other foreign networks.
There is no doubt that Paul Manafort is a sketchy, immoral, individual (maybe that’s why Trump ousted him as soon as this came to light). Given his ties, I’ll even concede he was probably working to push Trump toward better relations with Russia (by changing the language of the Republican Platform on Ukraine perhaps?).
It’s also probably true that Flynn was open to blackmail from Russia as former AG Sally Yates claimed, if any of the above is something you think needs to be kept secret, or if you buy that he might be scared of being prosecuted under an obscure law never used to successfully prosecute anyone since 1799.
But all this brings me back to my original question, which is “so what?”
In what way does having people close to you with ties to Russia (very different types of ties too) constitute evidence that you helped hack the DNC and leaked emails to Wikileaks?
In a world where the collusion claim was never made these connections would be sketchy at best but otherwise completely unconnected.
All of this can also be said of the laughable accusations leveled against the reprehensible Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III after he met with the Russian ambassador during the normal course of his Senatorial duties, something many senators do.
The most recent scandal — that Trump revealed classified information to the Russian ambassador and Foreign Minister — seems to be more proof of Trump’s ineptitude than anything traitorous. In a great interview on The Real News, Robert English, professor of international relations at USC, points to precedents where former Presidents have accidentally revealed classified information.
So this is how we ended up with “The Russian Thing” as it exists today.
The Rachel Maddows of the world have woven a grand conspiracy from one original, shaky, accusation of election interfering and a thousand otherwise disconnected incidents.
All that being said, it was very probably obstruction of justice for Trump to ask Comey to drop the Flynn investigation and to fire Comey because he refused to swear fealty is certainly wildly inappropriate if not illegal.
So we got him, congratulations everyone.
Can we drop the Russophobia now?
It’s important that we address that we didn’t “get” Trump because he helped Putin “hack the election”, or because some people that worked with him met with Russians. It should not be political suicide to want better relations with any country, let alone the country with the most nukes in the world. Meeting with the Russian ambassador should not be proof of nefarious intentions. Russia does not have to be our enemy. Obama didn’t think of them that way. We’ve longed shared intelligence and Russia hates Jihadists as much as we do, if not more.
So, while I don’t think that it will go anywhere, I want to make sure we’re clear, that if Trump does get impeached over this, it is not proof that Russia “hacked our election” and it does not mean we need to go to war with them.
The other thing we need to be clear on amidst this “impeach Trump” hysteria is that impeaching Trump means President Mike Pence. Where Trump suggests vile policies but seems to be too inept to enact many of them (the Muslim ban etc) Pence has a long history of successfully enacting vile legislation. Just because he tweets coherently or doesn’t have friends who talk to Russians doesn’t make him a better prospect for the country than Trump. In many ways a Pence Presidency would be even worse.
We should be careful what we wish for.