The Trump-Russia Collusion Story Backfired on the Obama Administration
In a 2012 presidential debate, then Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was criticized by President Obama for claiming that Russia was America’s #1 geopolitical foe. “Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida. You said Russia…the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” said President Obama. At the time, friendly journalists scoffed at Governor Romney and praised President Obama for his denigration of “outdated policy.” Today’s progressive class might wish they responded differently given their obsession over Russia since 2016.
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Since Donald Trump emerged victorious from the GOP Convention in the summer of 2016, the mainstream media and journalistic outlets have focused their sights on Trump and his campaign’s connections to Russians. Each new “bombshell” report paints a picture of a campaign seemingly controlled by the Kremlin. Unfortunately for proponents of the Russian collusion narrative, it is not possible that the campaign both collaborated in the most pervasive scheme to undercut democracy (even evading the Great Robert Mueller), while simultaneously claiming that Trump and campaign operatives are moronic dopes carrying water for the Kremlin.
Of course, the most charitable explanation to the Trump Campaign is overlooked because of a pervasive moral panic regarding Trump’s boisterous, often vulgar language and his “authoritarian” attempts to enact less interventionist policy. Recently, the national security blog Lawfare published an article titled, “Partisan Taint in the Trump-Russia Investigation.” After years of claiming that evidence of Russian collusion was around the corner and “the walls are caving in,” it is important to see such a prominent outlet admit the obvious.
The barrage of Russian collusion allegations stems from a few factors: President Trump’s less than perfect use of prose, campaign staff with less than ideal experience, connections with opportunists and cronies like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, and a campaign unwilling to adhere to political norms. Combine these factors with a news media seeking to draw eyeballs and clicks, and inevitably we end up in our current predicament. None of this should be surprising given that Trump, a real estate mogul and career entertainer, ran in a primary of over a dozen Republican establishment figures and Dr. Ben Carson. It isn’t hard to imagine that career political staff were turned off by the crude language and unscripted nature of the Trump Campaign.
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In the age of President Trump, consumers of news have come to expect daily “bombshell” reporting. What better story than portraying the Republican nominee as a stooge of the Kremlin given some of his campaign staff’s questionable connections? As Stewart Baker writes at Lawfare, “Divided government and a narrow range of political differences discouraged incumbents from using intelligence capabilities against the opposition. Now, not so much. If it sees members of the other party not just as wrong but as borderline treasonous, why wouldn’t the party in power use national security authorities against them?”
Some elements of the Russia investigation have exposed the lengths to which politicians will duel for power. For example, Baker continues, “there are reasons to suspect that, despite its denials, the DNC intended that [(Christopher Steele used his dossier to lobby the FBI to use its formidable national security powers against the Republican campaign)]…: It hid its ties to Steele behind multiple cutouts and a dubious claim of attorney-client privilege, then falsely denied its connection to Steele for months after the story broke.” This is an extraordinary allegation by a former general counsel of the National Security Agency. We now have the benefit of hindsight to poke holes in the past four years of misleading and possibly malfeasant reporting.
President Obama and his political machine were able to fabricate a mostly false but believable narrative using friendly journalists, complicit investigative and intelligence officials, and an opposing political campaign lacking in proper management. This false narrative has also been pushed by some former and current Republican neo-conservatives.
After all, President Trump’s less interventionist and less globalist foreign policy has angered the establishment class in ways that prior presidents had not dared. Recall that in 2012 President Obama engaged in a quid pro quo of sorts with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to postpone contentious issues until after Obama was reelected. This quid pro quo is not unlike President Trump’s actions with the Ukrainin President Volodymyr Zelensky that resulted in impeachment, given that the two engagements centered on political election “interference.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a news release on August 7th stating that the intelligence agency is concerned with activity by China, Russia, and Iran. Notably, many in the legacy media focused on Russia’s effort to “undermine former Vice President Biden candidacy and the Democratic Party.” Largely left out of the reporting was intelligence indicating that China “prefers that President Trump…does not win reelection” and that Iran “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections.” Missing from this is the moral panic regarding Iran’s efforts to spread disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content, in stark contrast to the panic that Russian bots on Twitter steered the election towards President Trump in 2016.
All of this goes a long way to demonstrating how overtly political media coverage and national security intelligence has become. For example, it is often overlooked that not only did Russia allegedly hack the DNC in 2016, but Russia also allegedly hacked the Republican National Committee but “none of the information obtained was leaked.” Baker also refers to the FBI’s usage of media reporting as an “FBI conveyor belt for turning media bias into a wiretap order. If that doesn’t worry you, imagine today’s Justice Department obtaining a FISA order against Biden campaign advisers by relying on an article from Breitbart, and simply telling the court, as the Page application does, that the information comes from ‘an identified news source.’” The Russia investigation is nuanced and cannot be substantially discussed in a single article as investigations continue to this day.
As United States Attorney John Durham completes his inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation, we should be prepared to question our prior assumptions. While the failings of the Obama Administration’s investigation into Russian interference have been a talking point on the right for the past three years or so, it is likely that this widely propagated narrative will collapse in the coming weeks. From the onset, it was highly unlikely that a political campaign full of “Deplorables” and “smelly Walmart people,” as FBI agent Peter Strzok referred to Trump supporters, would be able to evade the Western intelligence apparatus and the Five Eyes Alliance. In the end, Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Report “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interferences activities.”