The best evidence that Russia-gate is sinking beneath the waves is the way those pushing the pseudo-scandal are now busily covering their tracks. The Guardian complains that “as the inquiry has expanded and dominated the news agenda over the last year, the real issues of people’s lives are in danger of being drowned out by obsessive cable television coverage of the Russia investigation” – as ifThe Guardian’s own coverage hasn’t been every bit as obsessive as anything CNN has come up with.
The Washington Post, second to none when it comes to painting Putin as a real-life Lord Voldemort, now says that Special counsel Robert Mueller “faces a particular challenge maintaining the confidence of the citizenry” as his investigation enters its second year – although it’s sticking to its guns that the problem is not the inquiry itself, but “the regular attacks he faces from President Trump, who has decried the probe as a ‘witch hunt.’”
And then there’s The New York Times, which this week devoted a 3,600-word front-page article to explain why the FBI had no choice but to launch an investigation into Trump’s alleged Russian links and how, if anything, the inquiry wasn’t aggressive enough. As the article puts it, “Interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the FBI was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known.”
It’s Nobody’s Fault
The result is a late-breaking media chorus to the effect that it’s not the fault of the FBI that the investigation has dragged on with so little to show for it; it’s not the fault of Mueller either, and, most of all, it’s not the fault of the corporate press, even though it’s done little over the last two years than scream about Russia. It’s not anyone’s fault, evidently, but simply how the system works.
This is nonsense, and the gaping holes in the Times article show why.
The piece, written by Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, and Nicholas Fandos and entitled “Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation,” is pretty much like everything else the Times has written on the subject, i.e. biased, misleading, and incomplete. Its main argument is that the FBI had no option but to step in because four Trump campaign aides had “obvious or suspected Russian ties.”
‘At Putin’s Arm’
One was Michael Flynn, who would briefly serve as Donald Trump’s national
security adviser and who, according to the Times, “was paid $45,000 by the Russian government’s media arm for a 2015 speech and dined at the arm of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.” Another was Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Trump’s campaign chairman and was a source of concern because he had “lobbied for pro-Russia interests in Ukraine and worked with an associate who has been identified as having connections to Russian intelligence.” A third was Carter Page, a Trump foreign-policy adviser who “was well known to the FBI” because “[h]e had previously been recruited by Russian spies and was suspected of meeting one in Moscow during the campaign.”
The fourth was George Papadopoulos, a “young and inexperienced campaign aide whose wine-fueled conversation with the Australian ambassador set off the investigation. Before hacked Democratic emails appeared online, he had seemed to know that Russia had political dirt on Mrs. Clinton.”
Seems incriminating, eh? But in each case the connection was more tenuous than the Times lets on. Flynn, for example, didn’t dine “at the arm of the Russian president” at a now-famous December 2015 Moscow banquet honoring the Russian media outlet RT. He was merely at a table at which Putin happened to sit down for “maybe five minutes, maybe twenty, tops,” according to Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein who was just a few chairs away. No words were exchanged, Stein says, and “[n]obody introduced anybody to anybody. There was no translator. The Russians spoke Russian. The four people who spoke English spoke English.”
The Manafort associate with the supposed Russian intelligence links turns out to be a Russian-Ukrainian translator named Konstantin Kilimnik who studied English at a Soviet military school and who vehemently denies any such connection. It seems that the Ukrainian authorities did investigate the allegations at one point but declined to press charges. So the connection is unproven.
Page Was No Spy
The same goes for Carter Page, who was not “recruited” by Russian intelligence, but, rather, approached by what he thought were Russian trade representatives at a January 2013 energy symposium in New York. When the FBI informed him five or six months later that it believed the men were intelligence agents, Page appears to have cooperated fully based on a federal indictment filed with the Southern District of New York. Thus, Page was not a spy pace the Times, but a government informant as ex-federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy has pointed out – in other words, a good guy, as the Times would undoubtedly see it, helping the catch a couple of baddies.
As for Papadopoulos, who the Times suggests somehow got advance word that WikiLeaks was about to dump a treasure trove of Hillary Clinton emails, the article fails to mention that at the time the conversation with the Australian ambassador took place, the Clinton communications in the news were the 30,000 State Department emails that she had improperly stored on her private computer. These were the emails that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about,” as Bernie Sanders put it. Instead of spilling the beans about a data breach yet to come, it’s more likely that Papadopoulos was referring to emails that were already in the news – a possibility the Times fails to discuss.
One could go on. But not only does the Times article get the details wrong, it paints the big picture in misleading tones as well. It says that the FBI was “perplexed” by such Trump antics as calling on Russia to release still more Clinton emails after WikiLeaks went public with its disclosure. The word suggests a disinterested observer who can’t figure out what’s going on. But it ignores how poisonous the atmosphere had become by that point and how everyone’s mind was seemingly made up.
By July 2016, Clinton was striking out at Trump at every opportunity about his Russian ties – not because they were true, but because a candidate who had struggled to come up with a winning slogan had at last come across an issue that seemed to resonate with her fan base. Consequently, an intelligence report that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee “was a godsend,” wrote Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes in Shattered, their best-selling account of the Clinton campaign, because it was “hard evidence upon which Hillary could start to really build the case that Trump was actually in league with Moscow.”
Not only did Clinton believe this, but her followers did as well, as did the corporate media and, evidently, the FBI. This is the takeaway from text messages that FBI counterintelligence chief Peter Strzok exchanged with FBI staff attorney Lisa Page.
Andrew McCarthy, who has done a masterful job of reconstructing the sequence, notes that in late July 2016, Page mentioned an article she had come across on a liberal web site discussing Trump’s alleged Russia ties. Strzok texted back that he’s “partial to any women sending articles about nasty the Russians are.” Page replied that the Russians “are probably the worst. Very little I finding redeeming about this. Even in history. Couple of good writers and artists I guess.” Strzok heartily agreed: “f***ing conniving cheating savages. At statecraft, athletics, you name it. I’m glad I’m on Team USA.”