More on the Trump/Russia witch hunt

Some people have expressed frustration with my last post about the Russia/ Trump nonsense, on the ground that it’s not as detailed as usual. It’s true that it isn’t, but as I explained, that’s because I don’t have time. If you were frustrated by my post, be assured that I was even more frustrated by the fact that people expressed puzzlement at what I was saying, even though it should be obvious to anyone who has followed this story closely. I wouldn’t have to write this if journalists were doing their job, but unfortunately you’re more likely to find the complete works of Plato in Trump’s personal library than a journalist who does his job. However, since I don’t want to be accused of making claims that I couldn’t back up, I’m going to briefly discuss a few aspects of the most recent outbreak of hysteria about Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia. This post is far from exhaustive, but it should be enough to substantiate most of the claims I was making before. Hopefully, after you have read it, you will read newspapers more carefully.

As you probably know, the New York Times recently published a story about a memo that Comey wrote after a meeting with Trump in February, during which Trump is supposed to have expressed his hope that Comey would let go of the investigation on Flynn who had just resigned the day before. Trump’s opponents are completely hysterical because they think it’s obstruction of justice, but I doubt many of them have actually read the story and, if they did, they clearly didn’t read it very carefully. Indeed, as the author of that piece admits, no one at the New York Times even saw that memo. He says that parts of it were read to a reporter by one of Comey’s associates. Thus, even if Comey accurately described the nature of his conversation with Trump in that memo (which is hardly obvious), we have no way to know that whoever leaked that information to the New York Times didn’t omit part of the context in order to make Trump look bad. Indeed, given that whoever did that was evidently trying to harm Trump, it would be completely irresponsible to dismiss that possibility. But you would look in vain for any acknowledgement, let alone a discussion, of that fact in the New York Times…

Here is how the content of the memo is described by the New York Times:

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

 

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

 

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

One interpretation of this description, which is adopted by the New York Times as if there was no other way to read it, is that Trump was trying to intimidate Comey into dropping a legitimate investigation into Flynn.

However, another interpretation is that Trump was just expressing to Comey his frustration that the FBI was participating in the assault against Flynn, who he thought was a collateral victim of the anti-Russian witch hunt directed primarily against him. There is a difference between trying to intimidate Comey into dropping a legitimate investigation and telling him that, now that he’s got Flynn’s scalp, he can stop this nonsense. We know that Trump isn’t exactly careful with his words, so it wouldn’t be surprising if, taken out of context, what he told Comey could be made to sound more nefarious than it actually was. This interpretation is all the more plausible that, in all likelihood, Flynn was a victim of the anti-Russian witch hunt directed primarily against Trump. At the time, the main thing people blamed Flynn for was his conversation with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in Washington. However, as I already argued in detail a few weeks ago, not only was there nothing wrong about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak, but on the contrary he should have been praised for it. Some people went as far as invoking the Logan Act, a statute from 1799 that has never been enforced, to claim that Flynn had violated federal law… It’s true that Flynn was officially forced to resign because he allegedly misrepresented the nature of his conversation with Kislyak to Pence, but everybody knows that, had the media not pretended that his conversation with the Russian ambassador somehow proved that Trump’s campaign had been colluding with Russia, he would still be National Security Advisor and, in any case, the FBI wasn’t investigating him for that.

It’s also true that, when Trump had this conversation with Comey, Flynn was already under investigation for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), although this wasn’t made public until recently, when it was revealed by the New York Times. But as the Department of Justice itself admitted in September 2016, FARA is violated all the time and rarely enforced. Indeed, according to this audit, “between 1966 and 2015, the DOJ only brought seven criminal FARA cases, and it has not sought civil injunctive relief under FARA since 1991”. Of course, not everyone who violates FARA is about to become National Security Advisor, but given how rarely it’s enforced no matter who you are, I doubt people would have bothered him with that, were it not for the fact that he was perceived as close to Russia. It’s funny how, when it comes to people who are close to Trump and favor a rapprochement with Moscow, statutes that people usually don’t care about suddenly become a big deal, even when they are more than 200 years old. But I’m sure it’s just a coincidence… In any case, as I already noted above, it’s impossible to know whether Trump really did something inappropriate during that conversation with Comey without knowing the context. which the officials who leaked part of the memo to the New York Times were careful not to provide.

People also seem outraged because they think that, if Trump fired Comey, it’s at least in part because of the investigation about the alleged collusion between his campaign and Russia. Now, while I have no doubt that it’s why he fired Comey (if only because he admitted as much himself on NBC), it doesn’t mean that he did it because he thought it would end the investigation and, perhaps more importantly, I think it was a very good reason to fire Comey. Despite what the New York Times is trying to suggest in a recent article about Trump’s meeting with Lavrov, he can’t have fired Comey it because he thought it would end the investigation, since even Trump is not foolish enough to believe that getting rid of Comey would end the investigation as opposed to bringing even more focus on it, which is exactly what happened. I also think that Trump was entirely justified in firing Comey because he allowed this investigation, which is nothing but a politically motivated witch hunt, to be launched in the first place under the flimsiest of reasons and continue for so long. Indeed, had I been Trump, I would have fired him from the moment I was inaugurated.

It’s good to remember that, as even Trump’s opponents who had access to classified information about the investigation admit, there isn’t any evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia. For instance, here is a partial transcript of the interview Dianne Feinstein, a well-known Trump fan, gave to CNN on May 18:

WOLF BLITZER: The last time we spoke, Senator, I asked you if you had actually seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and you said to me — and I’m quoting you now — you said, ‘not at this time.’ Has anything changed since we spoke last?

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, not—no, it hasn’t.

. . .

BLITZER: But I just want to be precise, Senator. In all of the—you’ve had access from the intelligence committee, from the Judiciary committee, all of the access you’ve had to very sensitive information, so far you’ve not seen any evidence of collusion, is that right?

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, evidence that would establish that there’s collusion. There are all kinds of rumors around. There are newspaper stories, but that’s not necessarily evidence.

I’m just going to quote this interview, but I could literally quote dozens of other interviews, statements or articles that say the same thing, including Brennan’s recent testimony in Senate even though people are trying to pretend otherwise. The fact is that, even after 9 months of investigation, there is still not a shred of actual evidence that anyone in Trump’s campaign ever colluded with Russia during the election, whatever that is supposed to mean. But people just lose sight of this fact because, instead of insisting on that as they would do if they were not incompetent and dishonest, journalists are constantly trying to spin non-stories as if they revealed something ominous to make it look like there might be something to this story.

A case in point is the latest “revelation” by the New York Times, published today on its front page under the headline “Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer”. This sounds really ominous, but here is what this so-called “revelation” amounts to:

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

 

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

 

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

 

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

In other words, a few people in Trump’s campaign had previously been in contact with Russian officials or people close to them, which the Russians were hoping would help them influence Trump’s policy toward Russia if he won.

I have seen several people share this on social media, as if this non-story somehow revealed something interesting and, of course, ominous. Yet anyone who takes five seconds to think about this will realize that, 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.) This article in the New York Times or, as I like to call it, the Pravda on the Hudson River is a perfect example of what I was talking about in my last post about this nonsense. The media is constantly trying to hide the fact that, despite months of investigation, there still isn’t a shred of evidence that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia by spinning non-stories to suggest otherwise. There is nothing, nothing at all, nefarious about what this article reveals. We have known for a long time that some people in Trump’s campaign had good relations with Russia and only a moron could have been surprised that, as a result, Russian officials were hoping that, if Trump won, they would be able to use their contacts with the people in question to further the interests of their country.

The only thing in that article which is actually interesting is that this fact, which again is totally uninteresting, was apparently used to justify the investigation about Russia’s alleged collusion with Trump’s campaign during the election. This confirms that, as I said above, this investigation is nothing but a politically motivated witch hunt. In that respect, it’s also interesting to note that, a little bit more than a month ago, CNN revealed something that went completely unnoticed:

The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign as part of the justification to win approval to secretly monitor a Trump associate, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.

 

The dossier has also been cited by FBI Director James Comey in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks, as one of the sources of information the bureau has used to bolster its investigation, according to US officials briefed on the probe.
 
This includes approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor the communications of Carter Page, two of the officials said. Last year, Page was identified by the Trump campaign as an adviser on national security.
The fact that the FBI felt it needed to use that infamous dossier in order to obtain a warrant against Page tells you everything you need to know about how serious that investigation really is. Indeed, as I argued in detail a few months ago, this dossier contains many inaccuracies, wildly implausible claims and internal tensions. Since I last talked about this, it has been further discredited. Indeed, not only did the man who compiled it admitted that “some of his work was not fully verified” (no fucking shit), but one of his sources was revealed to be a major crackpot. Yet apparently the FBI’s case to monitor Page was so weak that it had to rely on this piece of garbage.

It’s true that, immediately after this passage, CNN also writes this:

 
Officials familiar with the process say even if the application to monitor Page included information from the dossier, it would only be after the FBI had corroborated the information through its own investigation. The officials would not say what or how much was corroborated.
But this is clearly damage control, included to make it look like the FBI did nothing wrong . Indeed, the officials mentioned in this passage say that “even if the application to monitor Page included information from the dossier”, but CNN just explained that information from the dossier was used to obtain a warrant against Page. Which shows they don’t have any knowledge of the application filed by the FBI to obtain that warrant and, presumably, are just offering their opinion on how the FBI could have ended up using information from the dossier for that purpose. Frankly, it would hardly be surprising if the FBI had been able to obtain a FISA warrant by using Steele’s dossier, since FISA warrants are handed out like candy by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Thus, between 1979 and 2016, only 51 out of 39,654 were rejected (that’s approximately 0.1%), which doesn’t prevent many people I know from saying that the fact that a warrant was obtained by the FBI against Page is evidence that Trump’s campaign was colluding with Russia…

Since I’m talking about FISA warrants, before I finish, I also want to clarify something I said in my last post about this. Indeed, some have accused me of saying that some people in Obama’s administration had done something illegal by putting members of the opposition under surveillance and spreading the information collected in that way throughout the government in order to maximize the probability that it would be leaked. But I never said that what people in Obama’s administration did was illegal. On the contrary, if you read my post carefully, you will see that it suggests exactly the opposite. Thus, to be absolutely clear, I have little doubt that what the people in Obama’s administration, such as Susan Rice, did to harm Trump was perfectly legal. But the fact that something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s okay and I was making fun of the media for pretending that it was okay just because it was probably legal. Part of the problem is precisely that the law allows that kind of things, which is absolutely outrageous. If liberals were consistent and really cared about civil liberties, they would be outraged by this, but they aren’t and they don’t.

What this sorry affair shows is that, as soon as someone even hints of conducting a policy that goes beyond the narrow range of acceptable policies among the establishment, he is completely destroyed. There is no conspiracy, this is just the result of the independent action of various members of that establishment, who have absolutely no need to coordinate to act in the way they do and for their action to be effective, because they share roughly the same ideology and have similar interests. I say that because, whenever someone uses the expression “deep state”, they are invariably accused of being a conspiracy theorist. But this is just a rhetorical trick to avoid having to reply to the legitimate points that people who use that expression make. Anyone who really cares about democracy should be extremely concerned by what is going on, even if they hate with Trump, but the truth is that people don’t really give a shit about democracy, even if they pretend to fight against Trump to protect it. This is precisely what allows unelected officials to fight Trump from within the government, even though they don’t have any legitimacy to do so, because almost nobody among his opponents is even going to question their motives or objectively look at the evidence or lack thereof. Despite what the Washington Post would have you believe, this is how democracy dies, or rather this is why it never existed in the first place.

People who think the priority is to take down Trump and that it’s worth using any means necessary for that are deeply mistaken, even from their own political viewpoint. The truth of the matter is that, on domestic issues, the President of the US is not that powerful. If he disagrees with the establishment, there is simply no way he could actually do what he wants to do, just because of the way in which the institutions of the US actually work. On foreign policy, on the other hand, the President has more latitude and therefore can do more damage. And, had Trump been allowed to follow his plans on foreign policy, it would have been a definite improvement. People who don’t see that are just hopelessly confused not only about the way in which the institutions of this country actually work, but also about the social and political situation of the US today. They think it’s urgent to take down Trump because they are convinced that he really threatens fundamentals liberties or that he is surrounded by actual white supremacists. In short, they live in a parallel universe, because there is no other explanation for why anyone would believe that kind of nonsense. I actually know several people with a PhD who sincerely believe that, were a major terrorist attack to take place in the US, Trump might well round up muslims and put them in concentration camps, which speaks volumes about how completely disconnected from reality they are. They are the same people who never grow tired of explaining how superior they are to people who are stupid enough to believe the latest nonsense they heard on Fox News. I think Matthew 7:1-5 has something to say about this…

8 thoughts

  1. “unfortunately you’re more likely to find the complete works of Plato in Trump’s personal library than a journalist who does his job”

    The best laugh I’ve had all day. This is quickly becoming my favorite blog. BTW, are you aware of this guy’s analysis of the evidence behind the Guccifer 2.0 disinfo effort? He is very thorough, I think you will like it: https://t.co/36olwxPvMP

      1. In case you never get to it, here’s a TLDR. The first three files (RTF MS Word documents) posted by Guccifer 2.0 all contain identical Russian style sheet RSID. Revision Save IDs are random numbers generated for each edited or newly added element of a doc when the doc is saved. This means that all three docs were at some point the same document. Additionally, the 3 files have identical creation timestamps and were created on a computer registered to Warren Flood, a Democrat employee. They were then modified by “Felix Edmundovich [Dzerzhinsky]” shortly afterwards.

        The actual original files later posted by WikiLeaks in the Podesta emails have different (earlier) creation timestamps and different authors associated with them.

        What this means is that someone using a copy of MS Word registered to Warren Flood created a Russian style template, and saved it 3 times. Roughly half an hour later, “Felix Edmundovich [Dzerzhinsky]” opened the files one by one for only 2 to 4 minutes each (edmins tag tells us that), presumably copied the contents of the original documents into them, and saved them for publication on Guccifer 2.0’s website.

        The original documents are still available on the same Guccifer 2.0 website, so the damning identical Russian stylesheet RSIDs can be easily verified. (I verified them.) It is clear that someone planted these “Russian fingerprints” but it seems that no one in the media cares.

        Adam goes over many other questions surrounding Guccifer 2.0. His website contains links, timelines, analyses, copies of his correspondence with many of the involved parties, etc. I wish a tech journalist somewhere picked it up. It’s important in understanding how and by whom the whole Russian interference narrative is being manufactured.

  2. It is mind boggling to me that anyone fell for this ‘Russia interfered in our elections ! crap and hysteria.
    It was sooooooo obvious from the beginning how this was ginned up.

  3. I haven’t been following all your posts on Russia/Trump. And I get that some of the evidence specifically about hacking was not what the media seemed to think it was. But if you don’t think there is plenty of evidence that Trump and the people around if have acted improperly at this point, even if what exactly was done by who hasn’t come out, I don’t know what to tell you. But I think I see how you have gone wrong. Here you say Trump “can’t have fired Comey because he thought it would end the investigation, since even Trump is not foolish enough to believe that getting rid of Comey would end the investigation as opposed to bringing even more focus on it.” But, of course, Trump is exactly that foolish. He bragged to people after he did it that it would end the investigation. This is a TV lawyer trick you employ here. Surely, the person that the evidence points towards couldn’t have done the thing they are accused of because surely they are so foolish as to not realize the evidence will point to them! Whatever helpful contribution you might have made to the hacking portion of this discussion, at this point, you are more of a conspiracy theorists than the mainstream media.

    1. But if you don’t think there is plenty of evidence that Trump and the people around if have acted improperly at this point, even if what exactly was done by who hasn’t come out, I don’t know what to tell you.

      I don’t really know what to say because I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you’re saying that there is plenty of evidence that Trump and the people around him have colluded with Russia during the election, whatever that’s supposed to mean, then I would very much like to know what this evidence is, because I have been following this story very closely and I have not seen anything worthy of that name. As for Trump’s conversation with Lavrov, to which you are alluding, I find the White House’s explanation of what he told them entirely believable. It’s exactly the kind of ridiculous tactics that Trump would use. Now, Trump is a clown, but he is not completely stupid. Even if he were foolish enough to think that firing Comey would reduce the pressure from the Russian investigation, which I don’t believe for a second, surely Kushner, Bannon, Pence, etc. are not. Finally, I can’t be a conspiracy theorist, since I never said that any conspiracy took place. The mainstream media, on the other hand, has been peddling a completely ridiculous conspiracy theory for months. You say that you haven’t followed what I wrote about this, but perhaps you should, because I have abundantly documented the dishonesty of the media on that story.

  4. I checked the definition of a “conspiracy theorist” and you are right. Let me me put it another way. It’s one thing to say that the evidence of a collusion between Trump and the Russians is much weaker than the media would have you believe, but it’s quite another to say that there is none at all and to characterize media reports as a “witch hunt”. When you say “I don’t really know what to say because I have no idea what you’re talking about”, with regard to that collusion, and pretend to have no idea what it might mean to suggest collusion (quote “whatever that’s supposed to mean”) you follow a certain style of analytic philosophy that unfortunately characterizes much of your writing. Let’s stick to the one substantive point I was trying to make. This is a terrible argument: “I don’t believe Trump fired Comey to quash the investigation because he (or, now you say, the people around him) could not be that stupid”. They demonstrably are and can be on a regular basis, in my opinion. I believe that Trump has said this is why he did it – and not just to Lavrov. But you seem to know the details better than I, so let’s just stipulate I’m wrong about this. Further, let’s stipulate that neither one of us knows exactly how smart or dumb Trump, and the people around him are. Even so, it’s not so clear that this attempt is as stupid as you make it out to be. Now that it has failed, of course, it seems preposterous. But what if a few key people, in Congress or the media, had seized on the pretext that even Trump was finally admitting that Comey had mishandled the Clinto email affair. Especially if the other evidence of improper dealings with Russia is as flimsy as you say, why couldn’t that have worked – especially, if Trump had stuck to that story instead of going all over the map. This is what I mean about your style of writing. You parse language and arguments very carefully when it serves your purposes. But when it comes to something like this, you suddenly make wild claims about the actors motives and wave your hands. Time will tell. But when it emerges eventually and clearly that Trump has a number of financial entanglements with the Russians that have led him to a series of backdoor deals, which may or may not rise to the level of being clearly illegal, and that a rudimentary grasp of human psychology made this clear long before the definitive evidence was public, I wonder if you will admit you were wrong. I suspect you will say that you were right to say that the evidence was too unclear before and no one could have predicted. Which is why this sort of analysis has never flourished outside philosophy circles.

    1. I only see this now, and you posted this a while ago so I’m not even sure you will ever read this, so I will just reply to what I take to be the most important point. (I used to receive notifications when someone wrote a comment, but for some reason this has not been working in recent weeks, which is pretty annoying.) I am indeed claiming that, unless you take the word “evidence” to mean something so weak as to make your claim totally uninteresting, there is no evidence whatsoever that Trump colluded with Russia. To be absolutely clear, I don’t mean that there is almost no evidence, I mean there is no evidence at all. I challenge anyone to present any such evidence if they think it exists. Also, I obviously have some idea of what the collusion that Trump is alleged to have engaged in could be, otherwise I couldn’t say that there is no evidence that anything of the sort took place. But on any interpretation of that claim I can think of, not only is the claim totally implausible on its face, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support it. So, when I write “whatever that is supposed to mean”, I’m just pointing out that people who claim that Trump colluded with Russia almost never say what they mean. Of course, that’s because if they did, it would be obvious how absurd what they are saying is. The fact that you think I will eventually be proven wrong really baffles me, especially given that it seems to rest on “a rudimentary grasp of human psychology”. I know I’m not wrong, for the same reason that I know Obama isn’t a muslim trying to destroy the United States, namely because it’s absurd and there is no evidence whatsoever to support it. So I will never have to admit that I was wrong, because I’m clearly not. In fact, I am so certain that I won’t be proven wrong that, if you want, I’m willing to bet a lot of money with you about that. Since you seem convinced that Trump did collude with Russia, you should accept the bet. Of course, we’d have to make clear what would count as collusion first, but I’m sure we can reach an understanding about that. For instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if the investigation revealed that Trump has financial entanglements with Russia (it’s clearly the kind of things people who are pushing this hope will happen, since unlike you they know there is no collusion), but this isn’t collusion unless the Russians somehow used that as leverage to somehow promise Trump help during the election and I know the investigation won’t prove any such thing because I know it never happened. I’m quite serious about the bet, I would really bet money on that and, to keep things honest, I would even publicize it by writing a post about it.

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