Recent Town Hall Meetings Show Why Fomenting Russia Hysteria Is So Harmful

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the main theme of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)’s town hall meeting this past Friday night in Glendale, CA was — you guessed it — Russia. Ostensibly, the purpose of the meeting was to highlight the U.S. Refugee resettlement program, which is being curtailed by Trump: very clearly an important topic for discussion. Representatives from the ACLU, International Rescue Committee, and other groups spoke compellingly on the harms imposed by the recent Trump executive order and drew attention to the legal avenues which might be pursued to oppose future “ban” attempts. So that’s a laudable reason to hold a public meeting, and I’d commend Schiff for giving a platform to such individuals.

On the other hand, the topic that kept coming up again and again, even though it had no relevance to the nominal impetus for the town hall, was Russia. Why might this be? The most activated core of the Democratic base are the ones attending these town hall meetings, and their partisan fever is running at an all-time high. Principal on their agenda is removing Trump by whatever means possible, and at present it appears (to them) that Russia “connections” or “collusion” would be the most effective means available to swiftly dispense with Trump.

This impulse led many liberals to cheer when Darrell Issa made the following preposterous comment a few days ago on Bill Maher:

They cheered because Issa’s statement was seen to place additional pressure on Trump: when Republicans are also calling for further inquiry into the Russia “connection,” that’s a big winner for Democrats. Hence, Democrats are in a position where they’re actively encouraging the proliferation of incredibly inflammatory anti-Russia sentiment, because in their judgment doing so will sour the overall political climate against Trump and create fertile ground for further investigations and perhaps eventually even impeachment.

Impeachment? Yes, that does appear to be the endgame here. At the Schiff town hall, someone stood up and cried out for Schiff to pursue impeachment against Trump — that’s clearly what the most exercised segment of the Democrats’ base seems to want. (A rousing round of applause ensued.) In response to this demand, Schiff replied that Democrats would continue to vigorously investigate Trump’s Russia ties, and he hailed John McCain and Lindsey Graham as models of courageous Republicans for also harping on this issue.

Watch the full TYT Politics video from Schiff’s town hall here:

Perhaps most grating about Schiff’s performance is that he continually asserts that Russia “hacked” or “interfered” in the election with the aim of helping Trump as if it were uncontested, verifiable fact. This has become an axiom in Democratic circles: that Putin loves Trump and launched an initiative from the Kremlin to get him into office. The only issue is that the evidentiary basis for this allegation is still remarkably thin. And yet you have Democratic congressmen and prominent media figures like Thomas Friedman pronouncing blithely that Trump is “compromised” by a hostile foreign power, and it doesn’t even occur to them that this is a charge of tremendous weight. If true, it would represent perhaps the most stunning crisis in U.S. history and perhaps even risk the implosion of the American political system. You’d think, then, that the burden of proof for such charges would be extremely high: we’d have to be extremely confident in order to just accept the accusations as conventional wisdom.

But still, the only public evidence for these wild claims is the DNI report that came out on January 6. Even people desperate to believe that Trump was a Manchurian Candidate dismissed the report’s findings as laughable.

It presented no new evidence, despite massive hype which portrayed the report as the long-awaited smoking gun proving Trump-Russia collusion.

Nearly two months later, that’s still the only evidentiary basis for claims that Adam Schiff keeps making. He said recently, “The basic fact that the Russians hacked our election, that they dumped documents, that they did this with the motivation of hurting Clinton and helping Trump, that’s all now very public.” What exactly is “very public”? The risible DNI report. I will quote the Russia expert Prof. Stephen F. Cohen on this, in full.

The crux of the allegations against Trump was, and remains, that Putin ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the dissemination of stolen e-mails through WikiLeaks in order to undermine the Clinton campaign and put Trump in the White House. A summary of these “facts” was presented in a declassified report released by the “intelligence community” and widely discussed in January. Though it quickly became axiomatic proof for Trump’s political and media enemies, almost nothing in the report is persuasive. About half are “assessments” based on surmised motivations, not factual evidence of an actual Kremlin operation on Trump’s behalf. The other half is standard whining about the Kremlin-funded television network RT, which is at worst an above-average “propaganda” outlet. Moreover, a number of American cyber-experts insist that Russian state hackers would have left no fingerprints, as US intelligence officials claim they had. Indeed, the group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity believes that the DNC documents were not hacked but rather leaked by an insider. If so, this had nothing to do with Russia. (The CIA and the FBI were “highly confident” about the report’s findings, but the National Security Agency, which alone has the capacity to fully monitor e-mails, was only “moderately confident.”) Still more, at his final presidential press conference, Barack Obama referred to the DNC scandal as a leak and said he didn’t know WikiLeaks’ exact role in the scandal — this despite the allegations by his own intelligence agencies. Nor is it clear that Putin so favored the erratic Trump that he would have taken such a risk. Judging from debates in Kremlin-connected Russian newspapers, there was serious doubt as to which US candidate might be best — or least bad — for Russia.

(My interview with Cohen should be up very soon on TYT Interviews, so be on the lookout for that.)

Especially troubling is that regular stalwart Democratic voters — the kind who show up incensed to town hall meetings — are buying into this Russia business with incredible vim. One of the people who stood up and fulminated about Russia at Schiff’s meeting proclaimed himself a leader of the “Hollywood-Silver Lake Resistance Posse.” So a guy who identifies as a steward of “The Resistance” has Russia foremost on his mind. Not refugees, not Muslim civil liberties: he’s worried mainly about Russia. For that, you can blame figures like Schiff and Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) who also made an incendiary claim this past week about Russia/Putin. During a press gaggle of which I was part, Peters asserted casually that the U.S. government is in the process of being “turned over” to Putin.

Most galling was perhaps that Peters apparently had no expectation of being challenged on this extraordinary claim; like it was just normal, accepted wisdom and everyone who’s right-minded already agrees. I did challenge him on the claim, though, and he retreated.

This just goes to show how entrenched the Russia narrative is now in the minds of run-of-the-mill Democrats and liberals. They are probably right that harping on this point is the the tactic most likely to pressure Republicans into abandoning Trump, but that’s only because Republicans tend to have sensationalistic attitudes about Russia to begin with. If fomenting further sensationalism is really what Congressional Democrats are after, their “Resistance” is in a strange, ominous place.