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.