Moving the goalposts on Trump’s collusion with Russia

I thought my last post on the Trump/Russia nonsense was clear, but it must not have been clear enough, since I’m still accused of having moved the goalposts on this story. In fact, not only have I done no such thing, but it’s the people who buy into this collusion lunacy who have. I have also been accused of whataboutism, because I brought up the collaboration between Ukraine and the DNC revealed by Politico in January, but since I did no such thing people clearly misunderstood my argument. So I’m going to address both points in this post, which hopefully will put to rest this nonsense, although I’m not holding my breath.

First, people claim that, after Donald Trump Jr. released his exchange with Rob Goldstone, I suddenly raised the standards of evidence I accept with respect to the accusation of colluding with Russia during the election that are made against Trump. According to them, the emails released by Trump’s son show that people in Trump’s campaign were at least willing to collude with Russia, but I dishonestly claim that what these emails show has nothing to do with the accusations that had been made against Trump. Now, I don’t deny that I make that claim, but I sure as hell deny that it’s dishonest. In fact, not only is it not dishonest, but it’s people who deny it who are dishonest, unless they are stupid or just haven’t been following this story closely.

Indeed, it’s just a fact that, when people were accusing Trump of colluding with Russia during the past year or so, they weren’t talking about something as trivial as accepting dirt on his opponent even if he knew it was coming from people in the Russian government, which his son’s emails show people in his campaign were at least willing to do. As I noted repeatedly in the past few months, when people accused Trump of collusion with Russia, they rarely explained what this was supposed to mean exactly, which itself was problematic. Indeed, you’re not supposed to make inchoate accusations against people, which can be interpreted in hundreds of completely different ways, because such accusations are both too easy to prove and too hard to disprove. They’re too easy to prove because, in order to prove them, you just have to show that one among the hundreds of possible interpretations of the accusation is true. They’re too hard to disprove because, even if the accused somehow manages to show that one of these interpretations is false, there are still countless others that could still be true. This is why nobody thinks that, for example, it’s acceptable to accuse someone of theft without saying anything more.

What is indisputable is that, whenever someone made the accusation of collusion more precise, it never had anything to do with something as unremarkable as receiving opposition research from Russia. It always involved some kind of quid pro quo, a conspiracy to commit or somehow take part in a crime and, in particular, it had something to do with the hacking of the DNC/Podesta’s email account. (Sometimes, it was also suggested that people in Trump’s campaign may have directed Russia’s efforts to influence specific group of voters, but this was less common and still had nothing to do with the content of Goldstone’s email.) In exchange for the release of the emails stolen from the DNC/Podesta, according to that theory, Trump or people in his campaign arranged for the GOP to modify its platform on Ukraine to make it more favorable to Russia and promised to help Moscow in other, mysterious ways if he won.

I could literally find thousands of articles which peddled that unhinged theory or at least hints at it. But I doubt anyone could find even one article that spelled out the accusation of collusion by merely accusing Trump of having accepted information on Clinton’s alleged shady dealings with Russia. Of course, since no such information ever came to light during the campaign, this is hardly surprising. It would also be impossible to understand the hysteria about Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia if people had only been accusing him of having accepted opposition research from a foreign government. No one can seriously believe that all this fuss was over something which, in the worst case scenario, would only be a minor violation of campaign finance law. (Although, to be clear, it probably wasn’t even that.) Even if you could find some article which spelled out the meaning of collusion in that way, I’m sure that, for every one you find, I could find a hundred which talked about the hacking of the DNC/Podesta’s email account. Again, people can deny this all they want, but it won’t make it any less true. If it’s not, they have a very easy way to prove it to me, they can just show me the hundreds of articles that spelled out the accusation of collusion merely by accusing Trump of receiving dirt on Clinton from Russia. Good luck with that.

Imagine that John has been accused of theft for months by a lot of people, who don’t have any evidence except for a few weird coincidences that don’t mean anything. Most of the time, the people who accuse John of theft don’t even say what he is supposed to have stolen, but when they do, they accuse him of having stolen a car. John protests that he did no such thing and claims that people only accuse him because they dislike him for totally unrelated reasons. Although it wasn’t even clear whose car he was supposed to have stolen, it was at least clear that, when people accused John of theft, they were talking about the theft of a car and not something else. After several months of this witch hunt, evidence comes to light which shows that John attempted to steal a banana, although in the end he wasn’t able to do so. Suddenly, even though so far it had only been question of the theft of a car, John’s accusers pretend they are vindicated. When John protests that, when they were accusing him of theft, it was never question of a banana, people accuse him of moving the goalposts. “For months you claimed that you didn’t commit any theft and that it was ridiculous to even suggest it, but now we know that you intended to steal a banana and, since you can no longer say that, you are moving the goalposts and claim that you never stole a car.” Of course, it’s not John who is moving the goalposts, but his accusers.

The situation I just described is exactly analogous to what has been going on in the media since the New York Times revealed that several people in Trump’s campaign had met with Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Jr. released his exchange with Rob Goldstone. (Except that it’s wrong to steal a banana, whereas as I’m about to argue, it’s not wrong to accept opposition research from a foreign government.) The truth is that people had been accusing Trump of something for which, despite months of desperately looking for it, there was no evidence. So when Donald Trump Jr. released his emails, everyone pretended that, during all this time, they had always been talking about something as banal as accepting opposition research on Clinton from Russia. But no matter how often they say that, it’s a lie and, they could repeat it a million times, it would still be a lie.

Now, even if the latest revelation has nothing to do with the accusations made against Trump since last summer (which it doesn’t), one could say that it’s still immoral to accept opposition research from a foreign government. Indeed, everyone is pretending to be horrified by what Donald Trump Jr. was at least willing to do, claiming that although politics is a nasty thing, this is really beyond the pale. Everybody seems to think it’s obvious that accepting dirt on your opponent from a foreign government is immoral, no matter the circumstances, yet they never explain why and treat anybody who questions that claim as a crackpot. However, not only is it not obvious that it’s always immoral, but I think it’s obvious that it’s not. For instance, supposed that French officials had reached out to Clinton’s campaign during the election, because they had conclusive evidence that Trump had murdered dozens of children while he was in France. As long as that evidence was conclusive, and it wasn’t obtained illegally (although even this condition is presumably overridden if the crime is serious enough), nobody in his right mind would insist that it would have been immoral for Clinton not to use it against Trump during the campaign, because that’s ridiculous. In fact, if she had been given conclusive evidence that Trump had done such a thing, it would have been her duty to share it with the public.

As I noted in my last post on Donald Trump Jr.’s emails, there are prudential reasons to be wary of using opposition research on your opponent provided by a foreign government, but I can’t think of any principled reason. For instance, before you accuse your opponent of wrongdoing, you have a duty to make sure that he is really guilty and that you’re not being manipulated by the foreign government that provided you the opposition research. However, if you have done your homework and you have conclusive evidence that your opponent did something wrong, then you should use it even no matter where it came from. But there is nothing in the emails released by Donald Trump Jr. which suggests that anyone in Trump’s campaign was willing to use false information about Clinton or information that was obtained illegally. So I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. If a foreign government had provided reached out to Clinton’s campaign and provided information which proved that Trump had committed a serious crime, none of the people who pretend to be horrified by what Donald Trump Jr. tried to do would have batted an eyelash.

Since after Donald Trump Jr. released these emails, some have pointed out that the DNC had collaborated with Ukrainian officials to dig up dirt on Trump, people have also suggested that it was not the same thing to collaborate with Russia. According to them, Russia is hostile to the US, whereas Ukraine is not, which makes it okay to collaborate with the former but not with the latter. Now, most of what they say about Russia and Ukraine is false and they only say it because of the absurd propaganda they hear every day about this, but it doesn’t even matter. (In my opinion, the Ukrainian government, which is the result of a coup, is far more harmful to America’s interests than Russia. If you’re curious to know why I think so, you should have a look at this article, which I published in The Nation in 2014. Note that, crucially, people in Trump’s campaign would largely agree with me independently of the witch hunt against them on collusion.) Even if it were North Korea that had provided evidence that Trump had personally murdered dozens of children, as long as the evidence was conclusive, there would still be nothing wrong for Clinton to use it against him.

After I published my last post on this, many people have accused me of being dishonest. They claim that I only say that it’s not wrong to use opposition research provided by a foreign government because there is now evidence that people in Trump’s campaign were at least willing to do so, but that if I had been asked about it before that revelation, I would have agreed that it’s immoral. What I just said should already have convinced you that it’s not the case, but the good news is that, if you still doubt it, the good news is that we don’t have to speculate. Indeed, unlike many people, I didn’t discover that the DNC had collaborated with Ukraine to dig up dirt on Trump a few days ago. I talked about it for the first time in January, when Politico broke the story, which since then has been completely ignored until Donald Trump Jr. released his emails. I brought that up again in May, when I criticized a story published the New York Times, which suggested the fact that Russian officials had good relations with some people around Trump was somehow nefarious. Here is what I wrote about this:

Every day in every country in the world, officials are discussing how they could influence the US. Often, some of them have contacts with officials who now play a role in the US administration or may soon do so because they are close to a major candidate, so the officials in question hope they will be able to use these contacts to further the interests of their country. There is absolutely nothing unusual about this, but when it’s Russian officials who have good relations with members of Trump’s campaign, then all of a sudden it becomes evidence of something nefarious… As Politico revealed in January, there were many contacts between a Ukrainian-American consultant for the DNC and the Ukrainian embassy during the campaign, but you don’t hear anyone accuse Clinton’s campaign of having colluded with Ukraine. (Incidentally, this investigation gives a lot of reasons to think that Kiev sought to influence the outcome of the election, perhaps even by forging documents, yet I bet that you never heard anything about the outrageous Ukrainian interference in the election.)

I had already read Politico’s story several times when I wrote this, so I was perfectly aware of the nature of Chalupa’s collaboration with Ukrainian officials, but you don’t see me pretend that what the DNC did was immoral.

Yet it would have been easy for me to do so, since at the time there was no inkling that anyone in Trump’s campaign had tried to get dirt on Clinton from Russia, so I could easily have made Clinton’s campaign, which Chalupa met with regularly, look bad in comparison. But I didn’t because, since I have a brain, I was aware that, as long as the information is true and wasn’t obtained by committing a crime such as hacking into someone’s emails, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. (The only problem I have with this story, beside the way in which people constantly make unsubstantiated claims about Manafort’s alleged relationship with Russia, is the possibility that the ledger miraculously found during the campaign, which implicated him in illegal payments made by Yanukovych’s party, may have been forged. But as far as we know, even if the ledger was indeed forged, neither Chalupa nor anyone in the DNC or Clinton’s campaign had anything to do with that.)

This should also make clear that, despite what many people claimed, I never engaged in any form of whataboutism or committed the tu quoque fallacy. Indeed, my argument is not that it’s wrong to accept dirt on your opponent from a foreign government, but that Clinton also did it. My argument is that it’s not wrong and that, if it were as bad as people are pretending since Donald Trump Jr. released his emails, there would at least have been some outrage when Politico revealed that Clinton had done it more than 6 months ago, at least from the right. But there wasn’t any, because the truth is that nobody cares, unless it’s Trump who does it.

6 thoughts

  1. col·lu·sion
    kəˈlo͞oZHən/Submit
    noun
    secret OR illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat OR deceive others.

    “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” Donald Trump Jr. said at a 2008 conference in New York. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

    On Jun 3, 2016, at 10:36 AM, Rob Goldstone wrote:
    Good morning
    Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
    The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
    This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.
    What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
    I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.
    Best
    Rob Goldstone

    On Jun 3, 2016, at 10:53, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
    Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
    Best,
    Don
    Sent from my iPhone

    From: Rob Goldstone
    Sent: Monday, June 06, 2016 12:40 PM
    To: Donald Trump J
    Subject: Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential
    Hi Don
    Let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info – you had mentioned early this week so wanted to try to schedule a time and day Best to you and family Rob Goldstone

    On Jun 6, 2016, at 15:03, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
    Rob could we speak now?
    d
    Donald J. Trump Jr.
    Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions The Trump Organization
    725 Fifth Avenue | New York, NY | 10022 | trump.com

    From: Rob Goldstone
    Sent: Monday, June 06, 2016 3:37 PM
    To: Donald Trump Jr.
    Subject: Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential
    Let me track him down in Moscow
    What number he could call?
    This iphone speaks many languages

    On Jun 6, 2016, at 15:38, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
    My cell [REDACTED] thanks
    d
    Donald J. Trump Jr.
    Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions The Trump Organization
    725 Fifth Avenue | New York, NY 10022 | trump.com

    On Jun 6, 2016, at 3:43 PM, Rob Goldstone wrote:
    Ok he’s on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 Minutes so I am sure can call Rob
    This iphone speaks many languages

    On Jun 6, 2016, at 16:38, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
    Rob thanks for the help.
    D

    On Jun 7, 2016, at 4:20 PM, Rob Goldstone wrote:
    Don
    Hope all is well
    Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.
    I believe you are aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?
    I assume it would be at your office.
    Best
    Rob Goldstone
    This iphone speaks many languages

    On Jun 7, 2016, at 5:16 PM, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
    How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.
    D
    Sent from my iPhone

  2. This is a continuation of the discussion we had below your previous post . I must confess I had not read your four-part series on Russia’s involvement in the US election, and therefore I failed to appreciate how different our epistemic perspectives were going into this. Now that I have read it, let me first compliment you on your outstanding research, that’s impressive. However, I disagree with your analysis of the available evidence, and I will soon post a comment on that beneath your first post of that series. Given that most of our disagreement here is probably explained by our different views on that matter, I’ll just try to summarise what I think lies at the core of our discussion, so that we can maximise our common ground.

    So let me make it clear that everything I say below is under the explicit assumption that the possibility of Trump having colluded with Russia is non-negligible. You doubt that assumption, but let’s separate that discussion. (At the bottom, I’ve added relevant quotations to the points here listed, just for sake of completeness.)

    1: You repeatedly claim that even if Trump Jr.’s meeting was illegal, and/or evidence of a willingness to collude with Russia, this in no way proves the earlier claims of collusion, because those were about something entirely different.

    Of course I agree with that. But that doesn’t mean that this revelation is uninteresting, nor does it mean that it’s entirely unrelated to those earlier claims.

    Firstly, it shows that they lied about never having met with a Russian agent, or someone they believed to be one, and Kushner’s excuse that the failure to disclose it was a mistake isn’t very credible. (Yes, in principle it’s possible that they didn’t lie, but just “forgot” about it. Then they’re incompetent, to say the least.) Finding out that important people lied about important things matters.

    Secondly, as I mentioned, it shows that Trump Jr. was willing to entertain the idea that Russia was supporting Trump, and was willing to collude with it. If one was already concerned about collusion with Russia beforehand, even if it concerned entirely different methods, this is definitely relevant. This point is even easier to make with your theft analogy.

    Very few people are thieves, where a thief is a person with the disposition to steal. Having such a disposition is a necessary condition for stealing a car. Attempting to steal a banana implies that the person has that disposition. Hence the attempted theft of a banana is evidence (in the Bayesian sense) in favour of being a thief, and therefore makes it more likely that the person also stole a car. How much more likely is a matter of debate, but in the stealing case it’s non-negligible.

    Of course the two situations aren’t exactly analogous, because the meeting reveals more than the mere willingness to collude. In fact, some elements it revealed might even turn out to be part of evidence against collusion, depending on what we learn about who set up the meeting and what it says about the Trump campaign’s naive views of Russian methods of communication.

    Lastly, it’s not because this is about something else than the previous claims of collusion, that it’s irrelevant. As you’ve conceded, it might be illegal. If so, then that makes it relevant.

    2: You repeatedly point out that if this meeting was such a big deal, then the same definitely holds for the DNC’s interactions with Ukraine.

    I agree that there shouldn’t be double standards as far as any legal matters are concerned, and the fact that the transfer of information between Ukraine and the DNC definitely happened, would make it worse.

    Assuming that one does not consider the collusion story nonsense, however, the two examples are different in one important sense, because the Trump Jr. meeting can’t be seen as an isolated incident, whereas the Clinton story can. Of course the meeting doesn’t prove anything, but if one is already investigating collusion, then this meeting ought definitely to be considered part of that investigation.

    3: You misrepresent what I have argued for on several occassions.

    4: Rather than limiting yourself to doubting the conclusions that are being jumped to in the media, you jump to the opposite conclusion.

    The only way that I can imagine you being so certain that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with Russia, is if you are certain that Russia wasn’t involved in the hacking of the DNC. So I think this again boils down to the discussion of that topic.

    5: You have very little faith in US intelligence, and therefore you consider the investigations to be undemocratic and illegitimate.

    I assume this equally stems from your conviction that Russia wasn’t behind the hacking, in conjunction with your general low esteem of US intelligence, as well as their failure to disclose proof that it did occur. In any case, you will be addressing this in a future post.

    **********
    These are just some quotes from our previous discussion, to support my claims.

    1:
    a: “Since despite months of looking for it, no evidence of that sort of things was in sight, they are now pretending that, during all that time, they were always talking about something as banal as a campaign getting dirt on their opponent from a foreign government. But it’s not what they were talking about and, except for those who are completely delusional or didn’t follow that story very closely, they know it. It’s amazing that many of them are now accusing people who never believed that collusion nonsense of moving the goalposts, when it’s absolutely clear that it’s them who are doing that.”

    b: “Yes, I have read several pieces on the legal aspect and, while the argument strikes me as far-fetched (there are also many lawyers who don’t find them convincing), I’m not a lawyer and not competent to judge. The important point is that, as you say, this isn’t what people were talking about and, if it’s illegal, then both campaigns are guilty.”

    c: “But even if you want to investigate this further, this meeting doesn’t justify investigating collusion in the sense people have used this word for months, because it has nothing to do with it. You can’t use evidence of something to justify investigating someone into something completely different for which you have no evidence.”

    d: “But more importantly, I don’t care if this was illegal, because for the umpteenth time, even if it was, it would have nothing do with the accusations originally made against Trump.

    e: Now, you might reply to this that even if the law is absurd, it must still be upheld, and that’s fair enough. Perhaps Trump’s campaign has committed a minor violation of finance campaign law.

    The important point is that, even if it did, it had nothing to do with the accusations of collusion made against Trump, and the DNC did worse.

    Am I really supposed to think that this whole drama, and the millions of dollars that will be spent on that investigation, are justified by a possible minor violation of campaign finance law? Please. ”

    f: “I don’t see why it’s a terrible defense to say that the attempt at collusion that has recently been discovered has nothing to do with what people were talking about when they accused Trump of collusion with Russia, given that it’s obviously true. ”

    2:
    a: “But let me just ask you how you explain, if the Justice Department is not biased against Trump, that it hasn’t investigated the DNC/Clinton’s campaign at all, despite the fact that we have known for months that they actually did what Trump’s campaign has only been accused recently of having been willing to do.”

    b: “Again, if you think this meeting with Donald Trump Jr. is evidence of collusion in the sense people have been using this word for months, then you should also say that the collaboration between the DNC and Ukrainian officials is evidence that the DNC conspired to forge a ledger implicating Manafort in illegal dealings, but that’s absurd.”

    c: “Why are they not, if it’s really such a big deal to accept information from a foreign government? The answer is that it’s not a big deal as long as you’re not Trump and don’t accept information from Russia. ”

    3:
    a: “You and many other people keep talking as if it were obvious that using opposition research on your opponent was automatically wrong as soon as it was provided by a foreign government, ”

    Reply: I didn’t say that, I said that in this case it struck me as wrong.

    b: “You say that it’s obvious that there would be a quid pro quo, but that’s obviously false.”

    Reply: I only said that he would have entertained the possibility of a quid pro quo, that’s all.

    c: “I’m merely replying to your argument that we can’t accuse Republicans of bias when they say that Trump colluded with Russia, by pointing out that we can since the Republicans in question demonstrably hate Trump and have publicly opposed him repeatedly. ”

    Reply: I don’t make that argument at all. The people I mention, however are also extremely sceptical of the MSM, and have also often defended Trump against it. This implies that in the least they are less biased than the MSM.

    d: “Strictly speaking, the fact that someone in Trump’s campaign talked with anyone who has been in Russia before, such as me, should increase the probability that they colluded with Russia if only very slightly, but nobody reasonable would call that evidence of collusion with Russia.”

    Reply: Evidence in natural language usually means circumstantial evidence, (not conclusive evidence), and I would say this translates into a significant increase in the probability of a hypothesis. What counts as significant is subjective, but surely the increase in Trump Jr.’s case is much larger than the example you give.

    e: “You can repeat that this meeting with Veselnitskaya is exactly the kind of things people were talking about when they were accusing Trump of colluding with Russia as often as you want, it won’t make any more true.”

    Reply: I never made that claim.

    f: “First, the US intelligence agencies don’t claim to have a proof that Trump colluded with Russia.”

    Reply: I didn’t say that, I was only alluding to the evidence of Russian interference. The main subject of all of those investigations is still Russia, collusion is not a primary concern. Of course that’s not how the media and Democrats present it, but that’s how I see it.

    g: “You depict Ukraine as a victim of the Russian superpower and suggest that it’s not as bad to collaborate with such a country rather than with Russia. But I think you only say that because you don’t really know much about Ukraine. … I’m also not sure what you mean when you say that Ukraine is “barely surviving”, but on the ordinary reading of that claim, it’s patently false.”

    Reply: Regardless of it being a victim or not, it’s a minor player in the world and is currently engaged in a civil war. A country which is split into three parts, is on my view barely surviving. (I don’t mean the people in the country, but the country itself as an entity.)

    h: “But that’s a totally uninteresting claim because the fact is that we do not know that Ukraine only gave the DNC information that was obtained legally,”

    Reply: I was just going by what that guy said, since he claims that we know this, which is why I said “If it’s true…”

    i: “because I was replying to a passage where you were alluding specifically to the US intelligence claims that Russia had interfered in the election to help Trump”

    Reply: I never intended to allude to that, I always meant investigating Russia’s interference.

    j: “I was pointing out that you keep pointing out that we should take certain people seriously because of their expertise even though I can demonstrate that these ‘experts’ are making provably false statements, such as the claim that Donald Trump Jr.’s email prove that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, which they do not.”

    Reply: none of the experts I refer to said that. Krauthammer says it, but he’s not an expert on the matter. I’m talking about legal experts, and US intelligence people.

    4:
    a: “Another possibility that was floated is that Russia coordinated with Trump’s campaign to target specific voters in key states to flip the election in his favor. But there is still no evidence whatsoever that anything of the sort happened and there will never be any because it never happened except in the fertile imagination of American liberals who still can’t accept that Clinton lost because she did a poor campaign. ”

    b: “Anyway, the moral of that story is that, despite the hysteria that engulfed the media since Donald Trump Jr. released its emails, this is another non-story that will go absolutely nowhere. It certainly isn’t a proof of the accusations of collusion that have been made against Trump in the past year or so, which isn’t surprising since nothing of the sort ever happened and you can’t prove that something that never happened.”

    c: “In fact, the example of what Ukraine did with the DNC shows that, despite what you say, a government can perfectly try to help a candidate to win without asking for anything in exchange. Indeed, we have no evidence that Ukraine asked for anything in exchange for dirt on Trump’s campaign, and I’m sure they didn’t. They just thought that Clinton’s victory would serve their interests better and that’s all they needed.”

    1. Firstly, it shows that they lied about never having met with a Russian agent, or someone they believed to be one, and Kushner’s excuse that the failure to disclose it was a mistake isn’t very credible. (Yes, in principle it’s possible that they didn’t lie, but just “forgot” about it. Then they’re incompetent, to say the least.) Finding out that important people lied about important things matters.

      As you seem to acknowledge yourself, it doesn’t show they lied, but let’s forget about this and assume it does. This collusion bullshit has created such a hysteria about Russia that, at this point, even a conversation with Putin at a dinner in a room where there was probably 100 people is made to look sinister. This McCarthyist atmosphere creates a very strong incentive to lie about anything that has to do with Russia, even if it’s completely innocuous, so I really don’t find that interesting. I agree that finding out that important people lying about important things matters, but I don’t see what important things you are talking about here. They’re only important if you think there might be something to this collusion story, but I don’t and I don’t see why anyone would.

      Secondly, as I mentioned, it shows that Trump Jr. was willing to entertain the idea that Russia was supporting Trump, and was willing to collude with it. If one was already concerned about collusion with Russia beforehand, even if it concerned entirely different methods, this is definitely relevant.

      Again, I understand that, but I don’t see why one would be concerned about collusion with Russia beforehand, since there was no evidence whatsoever that such a thing ever happened.

      Lastly, it’s not because this is about something else than the previous claims of collusion, that it’s irrelevant. As you’ve conceded, it might be illegal. If so, then that makes it relevant.

      The fact that it might be illegal doesn’t mean that it’s relevant. Jaywalking is definitely illegal, but I don’t care to know that Trump sometimes jaywalk, not even if he’s talking to a Russian while he does it. Again, this whole fuss isn’t about some minor violation of campaign finance law, especially since it probably isn’t one anyway.

      Assuming that one does not consider the collusion story nonsense, however, the two examples are different in one important sense, because the Trump Jr. meeting can’t be seen as an isolated incident, whereas the Clinton story can. Of course the meeting doesn’t prove anything, but if one is already investigating collusion, then this meeting ought definitely to be considered part of that investigation.

      Perhaps, but again there is no reason not to consider the collusion story nonsense, since there is not a shred of evidence to support it. We always come back to this basic fact.

      Rather than limiting yourself to doubting the conclusions that are being jumped to in the media, you jump to the opposite conclusion.
      The only way that I can imagine you being so certain that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with Russia, is if you are certain that Russia wasn’t involved in the hacking of the DNC. So I think this again boils down to the discussion of that topic.

      I don’t jump to the conclusion that this collusion story is bullshit. I know it’s bullshit because it’s implausible on its face and, despite months of investigation by thousands of journalists and the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world, who clearly have no sympathy for Trump since they constantly leak shit to embarrass him, no evidence has come out. If I tell you that Santa Claus exist and you tell me that you know he doesn’t, do you think it’s fair to characterize your attitude as « jumping to the conclusion » that Santa Claus doesn’t exist? I don’t.

      My certainty about this has little or nothing to do with the hacking of the DNC. Even if Russia hacked the DNC, this doesn’t show it colluded with Trump. In fact, it’s a completely implausible theory, since I don’t see why Putin, who is a prudent man, would take the risk of reaching out to people in Trump’s campaign to let them know about the hack and take the risk of being caught when he could just as well release the material on his own, especially when it was extremely likely that Clinton was going to win and trying to help her opponent would put Russia in a bad spot. It doesn’t make any sense. You also misrepresent my view about the hacking of the DNC, but I address this below.

      You have very little faith in US intelligence, and therefore you consider the investigations to be undemocratic and illegitimate.
      I assume this equally stems from your conviction that Russia wasn’t behind the hacking, in conjunction with your general low esteem of US intelligence, as well as their failure to disclose proof that it did occur. In any case, you will be addressing this in a future post.

      First, to be clear, I never said that I was convinced Russia wasn’t behind the hacking of the DNC. If you go back to what I have written about this, what I have argued is that the evidence was far from conclusive, especially given what is at stake. I have said very clearly why I have no faith in the US intelligence in my previous replies to you. I know of no example where the US intelligence made a claim about an adversary of the US without evidence that was later proven to be true, whereas I know of several in which it was later proven to be false. Given this track-record, I regard anyone who trusts that sort of claims when they’re made by the US intelligence as a fool, and I’m clearly right to do so. But if the US intelligence has evidence to back up their claims and is willing to release at least some of it, as it has done in the past, then I would have no problem revising my assessment of the probabilities.

      a: “You and many other people keep talking as if it were obvious that using opposition research on your opponent was automatically wrong as soon as it was provided by a foreign government, ”

      Reply: I didn’t say that, I said that in this case it struck me as wrong.

      Why does it strike you as wrong in this case? I can’t think of any reason, based the emails Donald Trump Jr. released, why anyone would think why he tried to do was wrong. Of course, you can make all sorts of crazy theories about how far he might have been willing to go, but there is nothing to support them.

      b: “You say that it’s obvious that there would be a quid pro quo, but that’s obviously false.”

      Reply: I only said that he would have entertained the possibility of a quid pro quo, that’s all.

      It really doesn’t make any difference in the context of my argument. He may have entertained the possibility that the Russian government was interested in a quid pro quo, but since this clearly wasn’t the only possibility (for reasons I explained in my previous reply), it doesn’t matter unless you can show that, if Veselnitskaya had offered him a quid pro quo on behalf of the Russian government, he would have accepted. But you can’t show that, because there is no evidence for that claim.

      c: “I’m merely replying to your argument that we can’t accuse Republicans of bias when they say that Trump colluded with Russia, by pointing out that we can since the Republicans in question demonstrably hate Trump and have publicly opposed him repeatedly. ”

      Reply: I don’t make that argument at all. The people I mention, however are also extremely sceptical of the MSM, and have also often defended Trump against it. This implies that in the least they are less biased than the MSM.

      The notion that Krauthammer and McCarthy are “extremely skeptical of the MSM” is laughable. (Have you looked at their biography?) I guess they, especially McCarthy, have been skeptical of the MSM on this particular story, which is probably what you meant. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that, as I have amply demonstrated, their arguments are crap. It doesn’t matter if they’re Democrats, Republicans or Jesus, nor if they criticized the media on their coverage of this story before, their arguments are still terrible.

      d: “Strictly speaking, the fact that someone in Trump’s campaign talked with anyone who has been in Russia before, such as me, should increase the probability that they colluded with Russia if only very slightly, but nobody reasonable would call that evidence of collusion with Russia.”

      Reply: Evidence in natural language usually means circumstantial evidence, (not conclusive evidence), and I would say this translates into a significant increase in the probability of a hypothesis. What counts as significant is subjective, but surely the increase in Trump Jr.’s case is much larger than the example you give.

      I agree that it’s what “evidence” means in ordinary language. You still haven’t shown that Donald Trump Jr.’s emails constituted evidence in that sense of the accusations of collusion made against Trump.

      e: “You can repeat that this meeting with Veselnitskaya is exactly the kind of things people were talking about when they were accusing Trump of colluding with Russia as often as you want, it won’t make any more true.”

      Reply: I never made that claim.

      You made it in conversation at the bar the other day, but I grant you that you didn’t reiterate it here, so fair enough.

      f: “First, the US intelligence agencies don’t claim to have a proof that Trump colluded with Russia.”

      Reply: I didn’t say that, I was only alluding to the evidence of Russian interference. The main subject of all of those investigations is still Russia, collusion is not a primary concern. Of course that’s not how the media and Democrats present it, but that’s how I see it.

      It’s absolutely obvious to everyone that the main subject of all those investigations is the accusation that Trump or people in his campaign colluded with Russia. It’s pretty clear from Rosenstein’s letter appointing Mueller as special counsel. Even if this were not true, which it is, there would still be no reason to investigate Trump’s campaign, absent a probable cause. The fact that Russia interfered in the election in the way claimed by US intelligence agencies, even if it were a fact (which we don’t know), does not constitute such a probable cause.

      g: “You depict Ukraine as a victim of the Russian superpower and suggest that it’s not as bad to collaborate with such a country rather than with Russia. But I think you only say that because you don’t really know much about Ukraine. … I’m also not sure what you mean when you say that Ukraine is “barely surviving”, but on the ordinary reading of that claim, it’s patently false.”

      Reply: Regardless of it being a victim or not, it’s a minor player in the world and is currently engaged in a civil war. A country which is split into three parts, is on my view barely surviving. (I don’t mean the people in the country, but the country itself as an entity.)

      Nobody seriously believe that Ukraine’s existence is threatened. Its territorial integrity certainly is, but that’s a different claim. In any kind, this has no relevance to whether it was more acceptable to collaborate with Ukraine than Russia during the campaign.

      h: “But that’s a totally uninteresting claim because the fact is that we do not know that Ukraine only gave the DNC information that was obtained legally,”

      Reply: I was just going by what that guy said, since he claims that we know this, which is why I said “If it’s true…”

      I know you did, but as I pointed out in my previous reply, if you make enough unwarranted assumptions, you can defend pretty much any view. The article you cited basically makes numerous assumptions which would indeed establish a morally relevant difference between what the DNC did and what people in Trump’s campaign apparently tried to do, but they are not supported by any evidence so I don’t see why we should care.

      i: “because I was replying to a passage where you were alluding specifically to the US intelligence claims that Russia had interfered in the election to help Trump”

      Reply: I never intended to allude to that, I always meant investigating Russia’s interference.

      Fair enough.

      j: “I was pointing out that you keep pointing out that we should take certain people seriously because of their expertise even though I can demonstrate that these ‘experts’ are making provably false statements, such as the claim that Donald Trump Jr.’s email prove that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, which they do not.”

      Reply: none of the experts I refer to said that. Krauthammer says it, but he’s not an expert on the matter. I’m talking about legal experts, and US intelligence people.

      I have read several articles where legal experts were quoted as saying it was proof or compelling evidence of collusion. (See for instance this article on Vox.) This is clearly false and one doesn’t need to be a legal expert to know it. But to be fair with you, I don’t think any legal expert in any of the articles you cited did, so mea culpa. However, it’s not true that you only referred to legal experts and US intelligence as experts, you also explicitly described the guy who wrote that article on opposition research and clearly implied his status as an expert carried epistemic weight. I’m quoting you: « Further, see the third link below for an expert on the matter who argues against your claim that this is normal behaviour. Sure, he’s probably not a Trump supporter, and he might be lying through his teeth. If so, then I’m hopeful that in a few weeks you’ll be able to point me to other experts on opposition research to refute his view. But until then I’ll classify it as evidence against your claim. » I have already explained at lengths why his article was total garbage.

      In summary, you are right that the crux of our disagreement is that you think there is something to the idea that Trump might have colluded with Russia during the election (in the sense in which « collusion » has been used since last year, which has nothing to do with merely accepting opposition research from Russia), whereas I don’t. The problem for you is that I’m clearly right, since as I keep repeating, there is no evidence whatsoever that such a thing ever happened. What’s really insane about this story is that I have to defend myself against the accusation of being unreasonable because I maintain Trump never colluded with Russia, even though this theory is totally implausible on its face and, despite months of looking for it (by countless journalists all over the world and several US intelligence agencies), there is no evidence that it ever happened. I’m the one being reasonable here, not the other way around. Why don’t these people say that we must wait to see if evidence surfaces before we say that e. g. Obama never conspired to destroy the United States or make it a communist hell? No doubt, they think the situation is different, but it’s really not. (Well, it is, but not in a way that supports their position, on the contrary. The difference is that such crazy accusations against Obama have never been investigated.)

  3. I want to know principle we are arguing about and can apply objectively to all parties. Is it,
    “Trump violated a [moral/legal] prohibition when [he personally/a “connection”/his campaign staff/someone hired by his campaign staff] [was willing to accept/requested/paid for/actually obtained] [oppo information/hacked information/media support/actual crimes] from a [foreign/Russian only][former citizen/current citizen/public official or someone “linked” to the foregoing] and [used it, traded it for favors/nothing]. ”

    It’s good to have legal and moral principles to guide behavior by all parties and to rationalize approbation.

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