On Trump’s collusion with Russia, if you add nothing to nothing, what you get is still nothing

A few days ago, the New York Times published yet another story about the allegations that Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russia during thee election, which has since then resulted in massive hysteria in the media. It may have been just smoke before, we are told, but this time we finally have a proof. It was followed by another piece on the next day which gave further details about that meeting. According to these articles, Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., but also Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, met with a “Kremlin-connected” lawyer during the campaign after being promised dirt on Clinton. The day after it published the second article, the New York Times, which serializes these revelations so as to sell more paper and maximize the political damage to Trump, published another story according to which Donald Trump Jr. was told before the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer in question, that the information he was promised was part of a Russian effort to help Trump win the election.

The next day, Donald Trump Jr. published the emails where he was told about this on Twitter, no doubt because it had become clear that the New York Times would eventually publish excerpts of them.

After he posted that, all hell broke lose, there was no stopping the hysteria. Not only did people start talking about impeachment again, but many even accused Donald Trump Jr. of treason, proving they have completely lost contact with reality.

So let’s look at the facts and determine whether, as countless people are claiming, these emails really prove that Trump colluded with Russia during the election. The answer to that question, as I will now argue but as should be totally obvious to anyone who actually read the press carefully about this, is a clear no. This email was sent to Donald Trump Jr. by Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who represents Emin Agalarov, an Azerbaijani pop star famous in Russia. He is the son of Aras Agalarov, a real state tycoon who owns a lot of properties in Russia. Aras is known to have worked with Trump when he organized Miss Universe in Moscow back in 2013 and was already mentioned in the infamous dossier on Trump published by Buzzfeed a few months ago. The part that people think is really incriminating is the passage where he says that Emin told him his father had met with the “Crown prosecutor of Russia”, a title that doesn’t actually exist, who offered to provide Trump’s campaign with “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to [Trump]”, before adding that it was “part of Russia and its government’s support for [Trump]”. Moreover, when he replied to this email, Donald Trump Jr. agreed to talk about it and said that “if it’s what you say [he] love[d] it”.

This is the exchange which, according to many people, shows that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the election. But it clearly shows no such thing since, as a matter of definition, it takes two to collude. This isn’t a deep observation, it’s just a basic point about the meaning of the word “collude”, which should be totally uncontroversial. But except for that email, we have no evidence whatsoever that anyone in the Russian government talked to Aras Agalarov, and offered to provide Trump’s campaign with documents “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia”. In fact, we can be pretty sure no such documents were provided to Trump’s campaign by anyone, since no such documents were ever produced during the election. The only embarrassing documents for Clinton that came out during the campaign were the DNC/Podesta emails, but they had nothing to do with Clinton’s alleged dealings with Russia. Rumors about Clinton’s alleged shady relations with Russia had been floated for years by some right-wing commentators, but as far as I know, nothing in the emails released by DCLeaks and Wikileaks substantiated any of them.

Indeed, as even the New York Times admits, there is no evidence that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort for 20-30 minutes on 9 June 2016, provided any such information during that meeting. Donald Trump Jr. said that, although he asked her about it, she didn’t give them anything on Clinton, but talked to him about the Magnitsky Act and Russia’s decision to block adoption by American couples in retaliation. Of course, if we just had his word, we’d have no particularly good reason to believe him. But the fact remains that no documents of the sort described in Goldstone’s ridiculous email ever surfaced during the campaign, which makes what he is saying about how the meeting went down pretty convincing, at least on this specific point. It should be noted that Donald Trump Jr. has offered to testify under oath about anything related to this meeting. Moreover, he also said during the interview he gave to Sean Hannity that there was no follow-up to this meeting, which is unlikely to be a lie since he must know that, given the hysteria about this meeting, it would come out. He may not be the brightest guy in the world, but surely he or at least the people who advised him before that interview are not that stupid.

What Donald Trump Jr. said about the nature of his conversation with Veselnitskaya is also consistent with what we know about her activities in the US. Indeed, as the New York Times reported in a piece about her on which I will come back shortly, she is known for lobbying against the Magnitsky Act. The Magnitsky Act is a bill voted by Congress and signed by Obama in 2012. It imposes sanctions on several individuals allegedly connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison in 2008. His death sparked a campaign led by William Browder, a US hedge-fund manager who employed Magnitsky and used to be a vocal supporter of Putin, to enact a law that would punish the persons he claimed were responsible. Despite the fact that he relinquished US citizenship to avoid paying tax, Browder was able to use his clout to lobby Congress into voting the Magnitsky Act. According to Browder, companies he owned in Russia had been highjacked by corrupt Russian officials, who misappropriated $230 million as part of a complex tax fraud scheme. Suspecting that something was off, Browder sent Magnitsky to investigate. Still according to Browder’s narrative, Magnitsky uncovered the fraud and denounced it, but he was arrested by Russian officials who benefited from it and sent him to prison, where he was physically abused and died of heart failure. Russia denied this account and, after Obama signed the bill, Putin decided to ban American couples from adopting Russian children in retaliation.

But while Browder’s account of the events that led to Magnitsky’s death is virtually undisputed in the media, it has been questioned by Andrei Nekrasov, a Russian director who made a documentary about the case. Although he is now vilified by the media in the US, Nekrasov is a well-known critic of Putin. In particular, he made a documentary in 2008 that accused the Kremlin of being responsible for Alexander Litvinenko’s death in London, which at the time was praised by the same people who now vilify him. Nekrasov initially set out to make a documentary, with Browder’s encouragement, that would support the dominant narrative about Magnitsky’s death. However, as he investigated the case, he came to be convinced that Browder had misrepresented the facts and that it was actually him who had committed tax fraud. In other words, despite his original intention, Nekrasov ended up supporting the version put forward by the Russian authorities. This infuriated Browder who largely succeeded in preventing Nekrasov’s movie from being screened in the West by threatening lawsuits and using his influence among politicians. In particular, the public Franco-German television channel Arte decided not to air it, despite the fact that it had commissioned Nekrasov to make a movie about Magnitsky in the first place. Browder was also able to block a screening of the movie at the European Parliament, where it was scheduled to premiere, before the event was canceled at the last moment. He also tried to block a screening in Washington DC around the time Veselnitskaya met with Donald Trump Jr. but was unsuccessful.

Veselnitskaya represents Prevezon, a Russian real-estate company registered in Cyprus, which has been prosecuted in the US of laundering money from the tax fraud scheme allegedly uncovered by Magnitsky. The case was recently settled after Previzon accepted to pay the US government $6 million with no admission of guilt. As the New York Times article I mentioned above reports, Veselnitskaya organized the screening in Washington DC of Nekrasov’s movie about Magnitsky’s death, which as we have seen Browder unsuccessfully tried to block. Her lobbying against the Magnitsky Act is part of her work for Prevezon, since the case against her client, who registered the nonprofit she set up in Delaware to lobby against the bill, depended on the truth of the allegations that motivated that bill. In the days before she met with Donald Trump Jr., she met with several other Americans, who told The Hill that she was lobbying against the Magnitsky Act. Since that’s exactly what Donald Trump Jr. claims she talked about during their meeting, this further supports the view that he is telling the truth, at least about that. Interestingly, as part of her work to defend Previzon, she hired Fusion GPS, the firm that paid Christopher Steele to compile the infamous dossier that Buzzfeed published in January. I’m sure conspiracy theorists on the right will have a blast with that information, but unlike them and the New York Times, I have standards so I’m not going to speculate about what this could mean. 

The New York Times also claims that Veselnitskaya has “has connections to the Kremlin”, which some people take as evidence that, when she met with Donald Trump Jr., she was acting on behalf of the Russian government. The New York Times made that claim repeatedly and, in the piece I already mentioned, it even claims that she is seen as a “fearsome Moscow insider”. The problem is that, when you read that article, it doesn’t contain any evidence that she has ties to the Kremlin. In fact, this article is a great example of propaganda, of the subtle but no less dishonest kind you can find in the New York Times. The only thing it establishes is that she has connections with officials in the Moscow region. In particular, the owner of Prevezon is Denis Katsyv, the son of Pyotr Katsyv, who used to be  minister of transport in the Moscow region and is now the vice-president of a state-owned railroad company. Since it broke that story, the New York Times has repeatedly used the fact that Veselnitskaya had worked for state-owned companies to suggest that she had ties to the Russian government, but that’s absolutely ridiculous. According to the most recent study I found, state-owned enterprises in Russia are responsible for at least 30% of the country’s GDP, so it’s probably hard to find a corporate lawyer in Russia who never worked for one. But obviously the vast majority of them don’t have “connections to the Kremlin”.

Moreover, in that article, the New York Times lies to exaggerate the extent of Veselnitskaya’s ties to officials of the Moscow region. Indeed, in the opening paragraph of that piece, the authors first mention her work for Denis Katsyv and then write “when Moscow regional officials battled Ikea over the Swedish retailer’s expansion, she took on their case”. However, once you reach the 29th paragraph, you can read this:

In another such case, Ms. Veselnitskaya took on Ikea, claiming that some of the land under an office complex owned by the Swedish company on the outskirts of Moscow belonged to an old farming cooperative.

 

It was one of many cases brought against the Swedish giant, and a former board member said they never could figure out who was behind them. This case was ultimately dismissed by the Russian Supreme Court.

In other words, despite what the New York Times flatly asserts in the opening paragraph of this article, we do not know that Veselnitskaya was working on behalf of Moscow regional officials in that case.

What the New York Times and other newspapers who emphasize Veselnitskaya’s ties to Moscow regional officials also forget to mention is that, as Leonid Bershidsky pointed out, the Moscow region does not include the city of Moscow. As he explains, regional officials are “several notches below the Kremlin level”, which is why he describes Veselnitskaya as a “low-level” Russian connection, not a “fearsome Moscow insider” as the New York Times described her in a headline. It’s also worth noting that Bershidsky, who is a fierce critic of Putin in self-imposed exile, can also hardly suspected of sympathy with the Kremlin. In the same article, the New York Times also quotes Browder as saying of Pyotr Katsyv, the father of Veselnitskaya’s employer, that “in the world of Russia he’d be the equivalent of a Chris Christie: no formal relationship to the Kremlin, but with very strong relations to the powers that be”. However, for reasons that should now be obvious after my discussion of the controversy about the Magnitsky Act, he can obviously not be considered reliable on this issue.

In another article published after Donald Trump Jr. released his emails with Goldstone about this, the New York Times claims that Veselnitskaya is “known to be close” to Yuri Chaika, the Prosecutor General of Russia whom many people speculate is what Goldstone had in mind when he talked about the “Crown prosecutor of Russia”. Unlike regional officials, Chaika actually is a big player in Russia, but the New York Times doesn’t give any evidence that Veselnitskaya is close to him or even describe the nature of their alleged relationship. Shaun Walker wrote in The Guardian that a source who knows Veselnitskaya had confirmed this to him, but doesn’t give any detail about his source or how Veselnitskaya knows Chaika. Robert Mackey in The Intercept also claims he confirmed that Veselnitskaya is a “close associate” of Chaika, but he doesn’t give any evidence for that claim. I asked him by email how he confirmed that Veselnitskaya knows Chaika, but he didn’t reply to me.

It’s hard to see why a low-level corporate lawyer such as Veselnitskaya would know Chaika, let alone be a “close associate” of his. It may be true that she knows him, but I don’t see why we should put much trust into anonymous sources we know nothing about, when there is no publicly available evidence that she is connected to him, we don’t even have any details on the nature of the relationship they supposedly have and nothing in the public record suggests they have ever been near each other. Even if Veselnitskaya knows Chaika, and the Kremlin was trying to make a deal with Trump, it wouldn’t make sense for the Russians to use her of all people to reach out to him. Not only does she not speak a word of English, but she is a known lobbyist against the Magnitsky Act and had to get special permission to enter the US, which means she was most likely on the FBI’s radar. Just ask yourself this question: if you were Putin and planned to make a quid pro quo kind of deal with Trump, would you send a woman who doesn’t even speak English and whom you have every reason to believe is a person of interest for the US intelligence to broker that deal? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s funny how the people who constantly depict the Russians as evil geniuses who secretly control everything that happens in the world at the same time ascribe to them actions that only complete fools would ever contemplate…

Of course, it’s possible that the Kremlin nevertheless used Veselnitskaya to carry a message to Trump’s campaign, but it’s extremely unlikely. Except for the email sent to Donald Trump Jr. by Goldstone, a British music publicist, there is not a shred of evidence that she acted on behalf the Kremlin. In fact, as I already pointed out, it’s extremely unlikely that she was assigned by the Kremlin to give dirt on Clinton to Trump’s campaign, since the information mentioned by Goldstone in that email never surfaced during the campaign. What probably happened is that Donald Trump Jr. was baited by Veselnitskaya with the promise of information on Clinton and she used that promise to obtain a meeting during which she talked about the Magnitsky Act, which she had been paid to lobby against for years. Again, we know that, in the days before and after she met with Trump’s campaign, she met with several other people in Washington to talk about that. In any case, what is clear is that, despite what many people think, the emails released by Donald Trump Jr. don’t show that anyone in Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia. As I noted before, it takes two to collude, but there is no evidence except for Goldstone’s ridiculous email that Putin had anything to do with this meeting and many reasons to think he had nothing to do with it. There are many things reasonable people can disagree about, but this isn’t one of them.

The emails released by Donald Trump Jr. only show that he and probably other people in Trump’s campaign were willing to receive dirt on Clinton, even if they believed it ultimately came from the Russian government. (If you find that surprising, I have another news for you: the sky is blue.) You can call that a willingness to collude if you want, but let’s clear that, in the context of the allegations of collusion made about Trump during the past year or so, this is extremely dishonest. It’s dishonest because everyone knows that, when people were accusing Trump of colluding with Russia, they weren’t talking about something as trivial as getting dirt on Clinton from Russia. As I pointed out repeatedly, it wasn’t clear what they were talking about, since they rarely explained it. But whenever they did, it always involved some kind of quid pro quo and a coordination with Russia, not providing Trump’s campaign with embarrassing information on Clinton.

In particular, people suggested that people in Trump’s campaign met with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in the US, at the Republican convention and agreed to remove anti-Russian language from the GOP platform in exchange for the release of the DNC emails hacked by Russia. Indeed, a few days ago, a group of Democrats whose emails were hacked last year filed a lawsuit against Trump’s campaign for, as the New York Times summarized it, “conspiring in the release of hacked Democratic emails and files that exposed their personal information to the public”. Their complaint is actually a very good description of what people were talking about in the past year or so when they were accusing Trump of having colluded with Russia. 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. 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.

This is why everyone is now pretending that getting dirt on your political opponent from a foreign government is beyond the pale and swears that nothing of the sort usually happens during a presidential campaign. We are told that no responsible campaign would ever accept opposition research from a foreign government, but that it would immediately inform the authorities that it was approached in that way as soon as they hear about something like that. It’s really amazing how people can say that kind of things with a straight face, but it’s even more amazing that so many people are stupid enough to believe them. The truth is that any campaign would accept dirt on the other side, even if they thought it came from sources linked to a foreign government, as long as they also thought it could be used against their opponent without backfiring on them. Even the New York Times doesn’t claim that campaigns never collect opposition research from sources linked to a foreign government, but only that they rarely do it.

This is no doubt because, as the New York Times knows perfectly well, Clinton’s campaign actually did what, as far as we know, people in Trump’s campaign were only willing to do, namely use dirt on their opponent even though they knew it came from a foreign government. Indeed, as I noted at the time, Politico published a detailed article in January which revealed that the DNC collaborated with officials at the Ukrainian embassy during the election in order to get dirt on Trump’s campaign. Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American working for the DNC, collaborated with the Ukrainian embassy and other Ukrainian officials in Kiev to dig up information on Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, with the encouragement of the DNC. Moreover, people in Clinton’s campaign were fully aware of that effort, since Chalupa occasionally shared the results of her investigation with them. We actually know this happened since it was confirmed to Politico not only by people at the DNC but also by someone at the Ukrainian embassy. Indeed, a man who worked at the embassy during the campaign is quoted under his name as saying that they “were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Chalupa”, whom he says “the embassy worked very closely with”.

Although this has been known for more than 6 months, nobody has accused Clinton or anyone in her campaign of colluding with Ukraine to steal the election. Indeed, I checked on their websites and, until this week, neither the New York Times or the Washington Post had written a single word about this. (I’m really baffled that so many people are still dishonest or stupid enough to deny that journalists are biased against Trump. Even if it weren’t obvious in their reporting, which it is, it should be clear from the fact that, according to the Center for Public Integrity, more than 96% of the donations made to a presidential candidate went to Clinton. Even if you believe that journalists are typically competent, in which case you really are a fool, you can’t seriously think that such an environment would not give rise to a lot of bias.) They mentioned it for the first time a few days ago, after Sean Hannity brought it up again to denounce the double standard and challenged mainstream journalists to explain it. The Washington Post and New York Times each published a piece in which they argued that it was not the same thing. The mental gymnastic by which they reach that conclusion is one of the most shameful thing I have ever read in my life and, since I read both the New York Times and the Washington Post on a regular basis, that’s really saying a lot.

Their main argument is probably that there is no evidence that Kiev engaged in a concerted effort to help Clinton on the scale of Russia’s effort to help Trump. The problem with that argument is that, as I argued at lengths a few months ago, the evidence that Russia engaged in that kind of effort is far from conclusive. (Jeffrey Carr, whom I cited in the past on that issue, recently wrote a shorter piece in which he makes the same point.) There is absolutely no doubt that, as far as the publicly available evidence is concerned, we have far more evidence that Ukraine intervened in favor of Clinton than evidence that Russia intervened in favor of Trump. Indeed, we know for sure that at least some people in the Ukrainian government tried to help Clinton, whereas we have no proof that anyone in the Russian government tried to help Trump. I know many people will find that unbelievable, but it’s absolutely indisputable and I challenge anyone to refute that claim. Beside, if we don’t have any evidence that people at the highest level of the Ukrainian government were part of the effort to help Clinton, it may have something to do with the fact that nobody in the media investigated this after Politico broke the story more than 6 months ago, so that’s hardly a good defense against the accusation of double standard.

Another argument is that, whereas in the case of Trump we know that members of his inner circle were at least willing to accept information from Russia, we don’t know that anyone with a comparable level of access in Clinton’s campaign knew about Chalupa’s coordination with Ukrainian officials. The obvious reply to this argument is that, if we don’t know whether that’s the case, it probably have something to do with the fact that nobody in the media investigated this story after Politico broke it. In particular, as I noted above, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post wrote a single word about this in more than 6 months, so again they really have no shame to defend themselves against the accusation of double standard by making that point. Another problem with that argument is that it neglects the fact that, although there is no evidence that anyone in Clinton’s inner circle knew about Chalupa’s effort, we at least know that some people in both her campaign and at the DNC were aware that someone working for them was actually coordinating with a foreign government and even encouraged it, whereas there is no evidence that anyone in Trump’s campaign did such a thing, only that some were willing to do it.

The New York Times and the Washington Post also point out that Trump’s campaign isn’t only accused of accepting information on their opponent from the Russians, but also of promising them something in return and coordinating with their larger effort to undermine Clinton, for instance by directing their efforts to influence specific group of voters online. But again there is still not a shred of evidence that anything of the sort happened. This is exactly the strategy I denounced above. They are using the emails released by Donald Trump Jr., which only show a willingness on the part of Trump’s campaign to accept information even if they believe it ultimately came from Russia, to pretend that it supports the accusations of collusion people have been making against Trump for months, which concern something totally different and far more nefarious. So they are right that what the DNC did is not the same as what Trump’s campaign did, but that’s because it’s worse. Indeed, the DNC actually collaborated with Ukrainian officials during the election, whereas as far as we know people in Trump’s campaign were only wiling to do so. Beside, even if they were right and what the DNC did was not as bad, it still wouldn’t explain why they didn’t write a single word about it until they had to, whereas since Politico broke the story about Chalupa the New York Times and the Washington Post have published hundreds of articles about the alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. You have to be a complete fool not to see that the media is ridiculously biased against Trump.

But again let’s keep in mind that, as the total absence of interest in the story about Ukraine’s interference from the media shows, nobody is really shocked by the possibility that a campaign might be willing to use information on their opponent provided by a foreign government. Nobody cares about that unless it’s Trump who does it, in which case it suddenly becomes a major scandal. Political campaigns are nasty and you have to be really naive to think that politicians have moral qualms with that sort of things. Beside, to be honest, I don’t really see why they should. Indeed, while I can think of plenty of prudential reasons not to do that, I can’t think of any principled reason why a campaign shouldn’t use information that proves their opponent committed a crime even if they think it comes from a foreign government, as long as the evidence is conclusive and no crime was committed to obtain it.

Even if you think it’s always wrong to do that, which strikes me as preposterous, there is plenty of evidence that campaigns did far worse in the past. During the 1968 presidential election, Nixon’s campaign secretly asked Nguyen Van Thieu, the President of South Vietnam, to stay away from the negotiations with North Vietnam organized by Johnson to reach a peace agreement, in order to make sure the war would continue and Humphrey would lose the election. The Times of London revealed in 1992 that, according to a memo written by the head of the KGB and found in the archives of that organization when they were opened for a brief period after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sen. Ted Kennedy had explicitly proposed a quid pro quo to Andropov in 1983, when he was Secretary General of the Party. He wanted him to help the Democratic party to defeat Reagan in 1984 and offered to collaborate in order to achieve that goal. Now, this memo doesn’t prove that Kennedy really made that offer and, even if he did, there is no evidence that Andropov ever acted on it, but it’s still pretty strong evidence of something far worse than what Donald Trump Jr. was apparently willing to do, especially since it wasn’t supposed to be public. In any case, I have never heard any of the hypocrites who pretend to be outraged by the emails he released this week ask for a Congressional investigation into this, though I have heard many of them praise Kennedy on countless occasions.

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. In my experience, when you point out that the revelation du jour doesn’t actually prove what people say it does, they react by saying that, although it may not prove anything on its own, there are so many other suspicious things that surely the accusations must be true. This is a version of the “death by a thousand cuts” strategy that every conspiracy theorist uses. In fact, it’s exactly the strategy that right-wing crackpots use when they want to make some crazy accusation against Clinton, because you can use it to “prove” anything. They make a lot of claims which they claim support their hypothesis, but whenever you look at one of them in details, you see that it’s either provably false/not supported by any evidence or that it doesn’t have any of the implications they say it has. Then, once you have said that about one of the claims they make to support their theory, they just say something like “that may be true, but there are dozens of other suspicious things, so surely my theory must still be true”.

But that’s not how it works. If you have pieces of evidence that don’t individually support your theory, putting them together doesn’t magically make them support it. They need to independently support it. Otherwise you can “prove” just about anything, since if you’re looking hard enough, you can always find spurious connections or, as they call it, smoke. This is not an extraordinary epistemic principle that I’m only adopting for the circumstance, it’s a totally uncontroversial principle that everyone relies on all the time. Except when it comes to issues that play a central role in their political tribe, such as this collusion nonsense for American liberals at the moment, in which case they just ignore it and interpret anything that seem to support their obsession as confirmation of what they have already decided is true. In the case of this week’s “revelation”, if you ignore the brouhaha and just look at the facts, all that’s left is a ridiculous email sent to Donald Trump Jr. by a music publicist. In one year from now, Trump will still be President, but liberals will still be convinced that impeachment is right around the corner. Perhaps the Democrats will benefit from this, since it’s clearly a distraction which prevents Trump from focusing on his agenda (whatever that is), but they may also come to regret their obsession with Russia if people are just tired of this story and feel they’re not talking about what they really care about.

EDIT: Since I published this post, The Hill revealed that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, had also attended the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. Although he is presented as an ex-Soviet counter-intelligence officer who still has ties to the Russian intelligence, there does not seem to be any evidence for that claim, except for claims by anonymous sources that he bragged about it. Even if he did brag about it, it seems unlikely to be true, given that he was only 24 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed. He left Russia only 3 years later to live in the US, where he acquired the citizenship in 2009. Thus, if he ever was a Soviet counter-intelligence officer, he must not have had a lot of time to make contacts and is extremely unlikely to have known anyone important. Indeed, The Hill has modified its article to remove the claim that he was a former Soviet counter-intelligence officer (without acknowledging the modification), which can still be found in the archived version. His presence alongside Veselnitskaya at the meeting with Donald Trump Jr., which is presented as a big deal, is completely unsurprising. Indeed, as I noted above, Veselnitskaya doesn’t speak English and, as RFE/RL reported last year, Akhmetshinhas been working for the nonprofit she set up in Delaware to lobby against the Magnitsky Act for years.

ANOTHER EDIT: The Wall Street Journal just published a story according to which Veselnitskaya told the newspaper she knew Chaika. What she says about the sort of contacts she had with him seems plausible, so I think it’s now fair to say that part of the story was true, although the kind of relationship with Chaika described in that story is still a far cry from making her a “fearsome Moscow insider”. According to her, she just shared information on Browder with Chaika’s office, which is consistent with the fact that she has been lobbying against the Magnitsky Act. The article contains some interesting details about what information she wanted to provide to Trump’s campaign:

She did, however, share information similar to what the Russian prosecutor general’s office gave to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) in a Moscow meeting two months earlier. Namely, she said she wanted to inform the Trump campaign of allegations that an American firm Mr. Browder worked with, Ziff Brothers Investments, had dodged taxes in Russia and later donated to Democrats.

This is consistent with what Donald Trump Jr. said during his interview with Sean Hannity. Since they were promised information on Clinton, but apparently Veselnitskaya only wanted to talk about Browder, the man she had been fighting against for years, it’s not difficult to see why people in Trump’s campaign were disappointed.

YET ANOTHER EDIT: RFE/RL, a US government-funded outlet created during the Cold War to spread propaganda against the Soviet Union, just published a story with the headline “Russian Gave Trump’s Son Folder With Information Damaging To Clinton”. Now that makes it sound as if Veselnitskaya may have provided Donald Trump Jr. the information he was promised after all. Except that when you read the content of the article, it just confirms his version that she just told him about people who donated to the DNC and had been involved in crimes in Russia:

But in an interview with AP on July 14, Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer, said he was present at the meeting when Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya told Trump Jr. that people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and illegally supporting Clinton’s campaign.

 

Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats.

 

Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to Trump Jr. and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he told AP.

 

“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled Veselnitskaya saying.

 

Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more.

 

After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.

“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said.

 

Akhmetshin told AP he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials in Trump’s office.

 

It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, as I concluded above, Veselnitskaya just baited Donald Trump Jr. with a promise to give him dirt on Clinton, when in fact she only had inconclusive evidence that some people had made illegal donations to the DNC, in order to get a meeting with people in Trump’s campaign and talk to them about the Magnitsky Act, which is was being paid to lobby against.

16 thoughts

  1. Although I value your analysis of the purported evidence that is blindly accepted by the MSM, I don’t understand why you are so certain that what has happened is “nothing”. For starters, most of the articles I’ve read don’t actually state that we now have proof of collusion, so I’m not sure if that’s a fair characterisation of what countless people are saying. (To be sure, some did state that there is now proof of criminal activity.) I can’t help but think that you’re prone to the same exaggeration as the MSM is, except that it goes in the other direction. If your point were merely that we oughtn’t jump to conclusions of an ongoing investigation, and we should be more sceptical towards statements which are presented as facts but lack the proper evidence to justify them, then I would wholeheartedly agree with you. But it appears you are going even further, and imply that we should simply jump to the opposite conclusion, namely that there’s nothing whatsoever going on here and nothing will be discovered. Wouldn’t the most rational epistemic state be that we defer forming any conclusion until the (numerous) investigations are over? Obviously there needs to be some kind of incentive to prolong any investigation, but isn’t that exactly what this revelation offers? It surely is a surprising discovery, and there is no doubt that the people involved in that meeting didn’t want it to be made. (See the article below for an overview of the twists and turns that those involved took in order to conceal it. Why on earth would people behave that way over “nothing”? In the least, they believed that it would create the perception of “something”. ) To make it very concrete, the question is: should we continue looking for evidence of nefarious activity from the Trump campaign, or not? If this question had been answered in the negative months ago, then we wouldn’t even have known about all of this. Given that the discovery of this meeting contradicts so many of the Trump campaign’s statements, I would say it’s entirely rational to see this as a strong incentive to keep on looking. Regardless of the bad job that the MSM has been doing on this, isn’t this a conclusion you accept?
    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/07/the-trump-familys-increasingly-implausible-explanations/533682/?utm_source=atlfb

    1. As to the seriousness of the intention to collude, it’s not because others have sought such information in the past that it’s acceptable (both morally and legally). You’re right that many in the media hold Clinton to a different moral standard, and that’s hypocritical, but that doesn’t have any weight to those people – like myself – who don’t. That’s why I like Jonah Goldberg’s analysis: http://www.nationalreview.com/g-file/449516/donald-trump-russia-benefit-doubt-now-gone?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=goldberg&utm_content=doubt

    2. For starters, most of the articles I’ve read don’t actually state that we now have proof of collusion, so I’m not sure if that’s a fair characterisation of what countless people are saying.

      First, I linked to a piece that quote many prominent Democrats saying just that, and I could quoted countless people in both the media and politics who explicitly said that. I sometimes wonder if you live in a parallel universe. Moreover, you don’t need to state it to imply it, and that’s exactly what most people in the media are doing. For instance, just the other day, the New York Daily News put a picture of Donald Trump Jr. on its front page, with the headline “Kid Pro Quo”. And I could give many other examples.

      I can’t help but think that you’re prone to the same exaggeration as the MSM is, except that it goes in the other direction. If your point were merely that we oughtn’t jump to conclusions of an ongoing investigation, and we should be more sceptical towards statements which are presented as facts but lack the proper evidence to justify them, then I would wholeheartedly agree with you. But it appears you are going even further, and imply that we should simply jump to the opposite conclusion, namely that there’s nothing whatsoever going on here and nothing will be discovered. Wouldn’t the most rational epistemic state be that we defer forming any conclusion until the (numerous) investigations are over? Obviously there needs to be some kind of incentive to prolong any investigation, but isn’t that exactly what this revelation offers? It surely is a surprising discovery, and there is no doubt that the people involved in that meeting didn’t want it to be made.

      Yes, you are right and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear, I’m absolutely saying that there is nothing to this story and that the official investigation is totally illegitimate. It has no proper justification, gives illegitimate power to unelected bureaucrats and has not led to any evidence whatsoever of what people accused Trump of doing. This latest “revelation”, in particular, is not that. Despite what you say, it’s also totally unsurprising. The notion that it’s surprising that a campaign would accept dirt on their opponent even from a foreign government is totally unsurprising. People who have been part of a campaign and claim that’s not true are lying through their teeth. In any case, as I explained in my post, this has nothing to do with the accusations that people made against Trump. You can look for articles in the past that suggest Trump colluded with Russia to subvert the election and you won’t find any that was talking about something so trivial.

      (See the article below for an overview of the twists and turns that those involved took in order to conceal it. Why on earth would people behave that way over “nothing”? In the least, they believed that it would create the perception of “something”. )

      I keep reading this argument, but it’s obviously terrible. Of course they believed it would create the perception of “something”, because they know the media will spin anything, no matter how insignificant, as evidence of something nefarious, and that’s why they lie. There really is no need to suppose that they are trying to conceal a crime. Just read something about any criminal trial, people do that all the time: they lie about something not because they are guilty but because they are afraid it will make them look guilty. It usually backfires on them, but that’s irrelevant to the point I’m making.

      To make it very concrete, the question is: should we continue looking for evidence of nefarious activity from the Trump campaign, or not? If this question had been answered in the negative months ago, then we wouldn’t even have known about all of this. Given that the discovery of this meeting contradicts so many of the Trump campaign’s statements, I would say it’s entirely rational to see this as a strong incentive to keep on looking. Regardless of the bad job that the MSM has been doing on this, isn’t this a conclusion you accept?

      I have no problem if journalists want to keep investigating that, although I think it’s stupid and only meant to hurt Trump because they don’t like him for totally unrelated reasons. But I certainly think any official investigation should be stopped at once. In fact, I think it should never have been started, because it’s totally illegitimate. I actually think it’s a major scandal that it was opened in the first place and I also think it’s totally obvious. The only reason people don’t understand that is because, when it comes to this story, they just don’t apply totally uncontroversial principles whose violation would outrage them on any other topic. Indeed, you don’t seem to realize that, with this argument, we could justify investigations on anyone about anything. But since I’m really tired of hearing this argument, I’m going to write a post where I explain that, so you can tell me then if you still think my position on this is unreasonable. It will also address the other points you made, which I also hear all the time, and are driving me insane.

      1. “First, I linked to a piece that quote many prominent Democrats saying just that, and I could quoted countless people in both the media and politics who explicitly said that. I sometimes wonder if you live in a parallel universe.”

        1: Which piece? I went through all of the links, and didn’t find it. As to the “Kid Pro Quo” picture, that’s just a headline which can easily be part of a true sentence describing the situation: “Russian lawyer lures Trump Jr. into meeting expecting a Kid Pro Quo”.
        2: You mention prominent Democrats. Politicians aren’t journalists, and it’s important to remember that. Journalists ought to unbiased, politicians obviously never are. Still, except for Tim Kaine calling it treason, I haven’t found those Democrats in the links.
        3: A superficial google search gave me two results of people calling it collusion: Charles Krauthammer, and Andrew McCarthy, both of whom are conservatives. Even more, Krauthammer has himself been very sceptical of the entire collusion narrative, but as he explains in the article linked below, he considers those e-mails in themselves as conclusive evidence of collusion. (As does McCarthy in the article below it.) You can disagree with him regarding his definition of collusion, but that’s just semantics. What matters is if it was immoral, and/or unacceptable. You seem to claim that it can’t be, simply because of the fact that others have done so as well, which is a strange argument, to say the least. Further, it’s questionable whether what others have done is comparable. On both points, let me quote Krauthammer here:

        “It’s rather pathetic to hear Trump apologists protesting that it’s no big deal because we Americans are always intervening in other people’s elections, and they in ours. You don’t have to go back to the ’40s and ’50s when the CIA intervened in France and Italy to keep the Communists from coming to power. What about the Obama administration’s blatant interference to try to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu in the latest Israeli election? One might even add the work of groups supported by the U.S. during Russian parliamentary elections — the very origin of Vladimir Putin’s deep animus toward Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, whom he accuses of having orchestrated the opposition.

        This defense is pathetic for two reasons. First, have the Trumpites not been telling us for six months that no collusion ever happened? And now they say: Sure it happened. So what? Everyone does it.

        What’s left of your credibility when you make such a casual about-face?

        Second, no, not everyone does it. It’s one thing to be open to opposition research dug up in Indiana. But not dirt from Russia, a hostile foreign power that has repeatedly invaded its neighbors (Georgia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine), that buzzes our planes and ships in international waters, that opposes our every move and objective around the globe. Just last week the Kremlin killed additional U.N. sanctions we were looking to impose on North Korea for its ICBM test.

        There is no statute against helping a foreign hostile power meddle in an American election. What Donald Jr. — and Kushner and Manafort — did may not be criminal. But it is not merely stupid. It is also deeply wrong, a fundamental violation of any code of civic honor.

        I leave it to the lawyers to adjudicate the legalities of unconsummated collusion. But you don’t need a lawyer to see that the Trump defense — collusion as a desperate Democratic fiction designed to explain away a lost election — is now officially dead.”

        You claim that “the official investigation is totally illegitimate.”. Accepting that requires giving up faith in the entire American legal and political system, all because the US intelligence has not made public any evidence which shows in black and white how Russia interfered in the elections. To me that comes close to believing that 9/11 was an inside job.

        “This latest “revelation”, in particular, is not that. Despite what you say, it’s also totally unsurprising. The notion that it’s surprising that a campaign would accept dirt on their opponent even from a foreign government is totally unsurprising. People who have been part of a campaign and claim that’s not true are lying through their teeth.”

        I again refer to the Krauthammer article as at least one person besides myself who finds it extremely surprising. I’m willing to bet that if we hold a poll amongst exactly those people who didn’t believe in the whole collusion narrative, a majority of them found these revelations surprising. The only people who wouldn’t find it surprising, are precisely those who were already convinced that collusion had happened. 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.

        “There really is no need to suppose that they are trying to conceal a crime. Just read something about any criminal trial, people do that all the time: they lie about something not because they are guilty but because they are afraid it will make them look guilty. It usually backfires on them, but that’s irrelevant to the point I’m making.”

        Yes, on the most charitable reading possible they didn’t at all believe that this was unacceptable behaviour, nothing came of it, and they concealed it because of the perception it would create. And then a few weeks later Trump Jr. goes on CNN to say that it’s a disgusting lie to claim that Russia was interfering in the election to support Trump, because he enjoys the irony of using a disgusting lie to accuse people of stating a disgusting lie. (For at that point he had already said – it’s in black and white – that he loved Russia’s support for Trump.) But why would you possibly choose such a charitable reading? On the one hand anyone who has anything to with the MSM, US intelligence, or the Democratic party, must be a biased irrational liar, and on the other hand Trump supporters and surrogates are truthful objective analysts, in the image of their President, of course.

        “if journalists want to keep investigating that, although I think it’s stupid and only meant to hurt Trump because they don’t like him for totally unrelated reasons”

        I definitely agree that their dislike for Trump is a significant part of their motivation, but that doesn’t mean that everything they write is a figment of their imagination. Which is exactly why many commentators who are not part of the MSM and aren’t Democrats, like Ben Shapiro, Jonah Goldberg and Andrew McCarthy, to name a few, are also saying that this is definitely a big deal.

        “The only reason people don’t understand that is because, when it comes to this story, they just don’t apply totally uncontroversial principles whose violation would outrage them on any other topic.”

        In the examples I mentioned above, I would say that one uncontroversial principle is to accept as evidence of p that an expert on the topic says that p. Further, I would say that it’s rational to have faith in the proper functioning of the core institutions of one’s society. (Of course that doesn’t imply that they are functioning perfectly, but simply that they are not corrupted to the point that they have become a political and economic tool for a particular group of elites.) So I think it’s rational to believe that the US intelligence are justified in believing that Russia interfered in the election, that the entire US legal and political system would not set up important investigations based on fabricated claims, and that when evidence is revealed of something that strikes me as immoral and unacceptable, and is so considered by basically everyone except for the most devout Trump apologists and you, it probably is immoral and unacceptable.

        “Indeed, you don’t seem to realize that, with this argument, we could justify investigations on anyone about anything.”

        With which argument? That if the intelligence community claims to have conclusive evidence of something that is threatening to the US political system, which might have repercussions for future elections and for the current administration, one should open an investigation? That sounds like a better argument than the one which you seem to be implying: the absence of current evidence that is conclusive implies the absence of future conclusive evidence. With that argument, we could never justify investigations on anyone about anything.

        The way I see it, is that you’ve already committed yourself so strongly to the view that the Russia narrative is nonsense, that the burden of proof required to convince you otherwise has become irrationally high, and each and every statement in favour of that narrative is met with hyperbolic scepticism. As I mentioned in the beginning, I think you make a convincing case that one should be very sceptical on accepting statements that are presented as established facts by the MSM, but the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction if the default assumption ought to be that each and every one of those so-called facts are blatantly false. I don’t think that’s a sound epistemic principle.

        http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449481/donald-trump-jr-emails-demonstrate-immoral-collusion

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-donald-trump-jr-emails-definitely-show-collusion-but-collusion-in-what/2017/07/12/7b579394-666f-11e7-8eb5-cbccc2e7bfbf_story.html?utm_term=.aa0cd5e8403e

        http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/07/15/i-ran-oppo-research-against-donald-trump-he-has-no-idea-what-hes-talking-about-215381?cmpid=sf

        1. 1: Which piece? I went through all of the links, and didn’t find it. As to the “Kid Pro Quo” picture, that’s just a headline which can easily be part of a true sentence describing the situation: “Russian lawyer lures Trump Jr. into meeting expecting a Kid Pro Quo”.
          2: You mention prominent Democrats. Politicians aren’t journalists, and it’s important to remember that. Journalists ought to unbiased, politicians obviously never are. Still, except for Tim Kaine calling it treason, I haven’t found those Democrats in the links.

          I had in mind this piece. I just had another look at it and, while I have to admit that most of them don’t say it’s proof of collusion, many of them say things which are either probably false or completely unsubstantiated.

          But it’s really the media I’m going after, because you’re right that politicians are going to be politicians. First, the sentence you say accurately describes the situation is false or, at least, we have no evidence whatsoever that it’s true, because we have no evidence that Donald Trump Jr. expected a quid pro quo. But more importantly, it doesn’t matter that the headline could be interpreted in a reasonable way, what matters is that 1) it’s not how people are going to interpret it and 2) there is no way the New York Daily News didn’t know that. And that’s what I’m saying. Most “reputable” publications don’t outright say this is proof of collusion, though cable news is full of people who do (have you listened to CNN or MSNBC lately?), but many are suggesting it. For instance, when the New York Times makes its front page 5 days in a row about a meeting with a « Kremlin-connected lawyer » or a « fearsome Moscow insider » or some such unsubstantiated nonsense, do you think they don’t know many people are just going to assume Trump colluded with Russia? And do you think it’s not why they do it? Please.

          3: A superficial google search gave me two results of people calling it collusion: Charles Krauthammer, and Andrew McCarthy, both of whom are conservatives. Even more, Krauthammer has himself been very sceptical of the entire collusion narrative, but as he explains in the article linked below, he considers those e-mails in themselves as conclusive evidence of collusion. (As does McCarthy in the article below it.) You can disagree with him regarding his definition of collusion, but that’s just semantics.

          I have seen many other journalists calling it collusion on Twitter, but let’s just focus on Krauthammer and McCarthy. You keep pointing out that many Republicans are buying this collusion nonsense, as if this were a sign that it’s not a partisan thing. But as I explained to you the other day at the bar, most Republicans hate Trump, who essentially did a hostile take-over on their party, at least as much as the Democrats. If you don’t know that, you haven’t been following the campaign very closely. In particular, both Krauthammer and McCarthy were NeverTrumpers during the campaign, said they would never for Trump and wrote a lot of things against him, even after the primary was over. Even if that were not the case, I don’t care if they consider these emails conclusive evidence of collusion. It isn’t. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s an indisputable fact. Again, it takes two to collude, just check any dictionary if you don’t believe me. You collude with someone, not on your own. Trump can’t have colluded with Russia if Russia wasn’t involved. But there is no evidence that Russia had anything to do with this meeting and every reason to think it didn’t. So if they disagree with me on this, it’s because they disagree with the accepted meaning of the word ‘collude’ in English, not just with me.

          What matters is if it was immoral, and/or unacceptable. You seem to claim that it can’t be, simply because of the fact that others have done so as well, which is a strange argument, to say the least.

          I challenge you to find a single passage in my post where I make this argument. You won’t find any. What I’m doing is just denying that it’s wrong to accept opposition research from a foreign government, no matter who does it. 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, but neither your nor anyone else ever gives any argument for this view, which is because there isn’t any good one. Not only do I think it’s false that it’s always wrong to do that, but I think it’s obviously false. Suppose for instance that Russia had provided to Trump’s campaign incontrovertible proof that Clinton had personally ordered the murder of hundred children in Russia or that she was plotting to destroy Europe. Would it then be wrong for Trump’s campaign to use that information, just because it came from Russia? That’s absurd on its face. As I say in my post, there are prudential reasons to be wary of opposition research depending on the source, but I can’t think of any principled ones. Next I reply to Krauthammer’s absurd arguments.

          It’s rather pathetic to hear Trump apologists protesting that it’s no big deal because we Americans are always intervening in other people’s elections, and they in ours. You don’t have to go back to the ’40s and ’50s when the CIA intervened in France and Italy to keep the Communists from coming to power. What about the Obama administration’s blatant interference to try to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu in the latest Israeli election? One might even add the work of groups supported by the U.S. during Russian parliamentary elections — the very origin of Vladimir Putin’s deep animus toward Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, whom he accuses of having orchestrated the opposition.
          This defense is pathetic for two reasons. First, have the Trumpites not been telling us for six months that no collusion ever happened? And now they say: Sure it happened. So what? Everyone does it.
          What’s left of your credibility when you make such a casual about-face?

          This is blatantly dishonest, for reasons I already pointed out in my post. Everyone who has been following this story knows that, when people were accusing Trump of colluding with Russia, they were talking of participating in the hack of the DNC/Podesta emails and/or coordinating to time their release or some other conspiracy to commit a crime. I could literally find thousands of articles that substantiate this claim about what people meant when they were accusing Trump of collusion with Russia since last summer, but I doubt you could find even one that merely talked about getting true but embarrassing information on Clinton’s dealings with Russia until a few days ago. And that’s hardly surprising: no such information ever surfaced during the campaign, so people were making their crazy conspiracy theories about the DNC/Podesta emails, which really were hacked and really were released, though we don’t know by who. So the notion that Trump’s defenders are moving the goalposts is a filthy lie and Krauthammer, who reads everything in the press, knows it very well. It’s as if for a year I accused your father of stealing a car, which you denied, and then evidence that he stole a pen surfaced, and I said « ah! here is the evidence of theft you were asking for! », and then when you deny that there is evidence of theft I said that you were moving the goalposts because there is evidence of theft, namely the theft of a pen and not a car! If I said that, you would reply that I’m the one who is moving the goalposts, and you would be absolutely right. It’s exactly the same thing with Trump, except that there isn’t even evidence of collusion in the weak sense of accepting dirt on Clinton from Russia, only evidence of a willingness to do so, so it’s even more absurd. Krauthammer is a piece of shit, he always was and this just confirms it.

          Second, no, not everyone does it. It’s one thing to be open to opposition research dug up in Indiana. But not dirt from Russia, a hostile foreign power that has repeatedly invaded its neighbors (Georgia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine), that buzzes our planes and ships in international waters, that opposes our every move and objective around the globe. Just last week the Kremlin killed additional U.N. sanctions we were looking to impose on North Korea for its ICBM test.
          There is no statute against helping a foreign hostile power meddle in an American election. What Donald Jr. — and Kushner and Manafort — did may not be criminal. But it is not merely stupid. It is also deeply wrong, a fundamental violation of any code of civic honor.
          I leave it to the lawyers to adjudicate the legalities of unconsummated collusion. But you don’t need a lawyer to see that the Trump defense — collusion as a desperate Democratic fiction designed to explain away a lost election — is now officially dead.

          Krauthammer’s description of Russia’s behavior is entirely false or misleading. The problem is that people don’t know it, because the press is full of cocksuckers like Krauthammer, who lie all the time and mislead the public. It would take forever to correct all the lies or misleading claims he makes in that passage, and I will in the future on this blog, but fortunately I don’t even have to. He surely knows that the DNC actually accepted dirt from Ukraine, not just intended to do so. His argument is basically that what Trump Jr. tried to do is worse because Russia is bad and Ukraine is not. But of course that’s a political opinion which many people disagree with. I actually think the opposite is true. I think it’s the US that has repeatedly provoked Russia, that Russia actually doesn’t want to be hostile to the US and has tried repeatedly to collaborate with the US, to no avail because the US repeatedly tried to fuck the Russians. I also think that, as Matt and I explained to you the other day at the bar, the government of Ukraine is the result of a coup spearheaded by fascists. (Not what Western liberals call « fascists », but actual fascists.) And, crucially, these are views shared by people in Trump’s campaign. (In fact, that’s precisely why this whole collusion nonsense was invented, because Washington’s foreign policy establishment does not want to hear about a rapprochement with Russia, as Obama previously found out.) Perhaps the people in Trump’s campaign were wrong about foreign policy (hint: they were absolutely not wrong, as people would know if there wasn’t so much propaganda about this), but it doesn’t matter: the fact that whether it’s worse or not depend on your view about the US/Russia relationship shows that it’s not a good justification for the double standard because it rests on a view that the people being accused, folks in Trump’s campaign, would disagree with independently of this scandal. It just begs the question in favor of people who share Krauthammer’s insane views on foreign policy.

          You claim that “the official investigation is totally illegitimate.”. Accepting that requires giving up faith in the entire American legal and political system, all because the US intelligence has not made public any evidence which shows in black and white how Russia interfered in the elections. To me that comes close to believing that 9/11 was an inside job.

          No, it does not require that, it requires that we want to uphold the basic principles of a democratic and liberal society. Again, with the kind of standards you implicitly accept, you could justify an investigation into anything about anyone. People just don’t realize that because they’re not thinking straight. But again I won’t say more here, since I plan to write a post in which I present the argument in details.

          I again refer to the Krauthammer article as at least one person besides myself who finds it extremely surprising. I’m willing to bet that if we hold a poll amongst exactly those people who didn’t believe in the whole collusion narrative, a majority of them found these revelations surprising. The only people who wouldn’t find it surprising, are precisely those who were already convinced that collusion had happened.

          I already replied to this. I don’t care what people found surprising or not. I sure as hell don’t care what Krauthammer, who hates Trump and is a piece of garbage, thought. What matters is not whether people were surprised but whether this revelation about Donald Trump Jr. has anything to do with what people were talking about when they were accusing Trump of collusion. It doesn’t. (Indeed, the link you mention immediately after that makes that clear, see below on that point.)

          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.

          You do realize that, in order to support the case against Trump, you cite a guy who, by his own admission, was doing opposition research on Trump during the campaign? To say that he “probably isn’t a Trump supporter” seems like the understatement of the year… I don’t care how many experts you cite: if they deny that other people did the same thing Trump Jr. only tried to do, they are lying through their teeth. The whole fucking world of experts could say it, it would still be false. How do I know that? I have proven that the DNC, with the knowledge of Clinton’s campaign, had done that. Not just tried to do it, but actually did it! And this guy in the article you mention is forced to admit it at the end, but then he is saying that it’s not the same because 1) Russia is bad but not Ukraine and 2) the information Ukraine provided was legitimately worrisome information about Manafort. I already addressed 1 above. As for 2, that’s completely stupid: what evidence is there that Trump Jr. wasn’t expecting genuinely worrisome information on crimes committed by Clinton? There isn’t any and, in fact, the only evidence we have (Goldstone’s emails) says that it’s exactly what he was expecting. But the author of that article instead suggest that he was expecting information stolen by hackers, which nothing suggests at all. Not only does Goldstone’s email say nothing about it, but at the time the hacking of the DNC wasn’t even public. This is a prime example of the dishonest shift about collusion I talk about in my post and above in this comment: people are trying to pretend that these emails are evidence of the kind of collusion they were talking about, i. e. stuff about the hacked emails, when it is simply not the case. I don’t even understand how you can think that this waste of paper of an article is any good.

          Yes, on the most charitable reading possible they didn’t at all believe that this was unacceptable behaviour, nothing came of it, and they concealed it because of the perception it would create. And then a few weeks later Trump Jr. goes on CNN to say that it’s a disgusting lie to claim that Russia was interfering in the election to support Trump, because he enjoys the irony of using a disgusting lie to accuse people of stating a disgusting lie. (For at that point he had already said – it’s in black and white – that he loved Russia’s support for Trump.) But why would you possibly choose such a charitable reading? On the one hand anyone who has anything to with the MSM, US intelligence, or the Democratic party, must be a biased irrational liar, and on the other hand Trump supporters and surrogates are truthful objective analysts, in the image of their President, of course.

          How is that a lie? You have no evidence whatsoever that this statement by Trump Jr. is a lie. The emails he released only prove that, at some point, he believed that Russia might have interfered in favor of his father (his email says « if it’s what you say », which shows he wasn’t sure), but there is no evidence that he ever believed that Russia did interfere in the election and, perhaps more importantly, there is every reason to believe that, even if he did believe that after receiving that email from Goldstone, he no longer believed it after Veselnitskaya failed to deliver the information he was promised. Why would he believe Russia is really trying to help just because a pop star publicist told him so, even after the person supposed to bring him the information on Clinton that Russia allegedly had collected for Trump didn’t do so? So you are accusing Trump Jr. of a lie that, as far as we know, he didn’t commit.

          I definitely agree that their dislike for Trump is a significant part of their motivation, but that doesn’t mean that everything they write is a figment of their imagination. Which is exactly why many commentators who are not part of the MSM and aren’t Democrats, like Ben Shapiro, Jonah Goldberg and Andrew McCarthy, to name a few, are also saying that this is definitely a big deal.

          Again, you keep mentioned Republicans who buy into this as if it were evidence of their not being biased, but the problem is that every single person you mention was a NeverTrumper during the campaign and explicitly said he wouldn’t vote for Trump. But it doesn’t matter who they are. I just care about their arguments, and they don’t have any, except terrible ones.

          In the examples I mentioned above, I would say that one uncontroversial principle is to accept as evidence of p that an expert on the topic says that p. Further, I would say that it’s rational to have faith in the proper functioning of the core institutions of one’s society. (Of course that doesn’t imply that they are functioning perfectly, but simply that they are not corrupted to the point that they have become a political and economic tool for a particular group of elites.) So I think it’s rational to believe that the US intelligence are justified in believing that Russia interfered in the election, that the entire US legal and political system would not set up important investigations based on fabricated claims, and that when evidence is revealed of something that strikes me as immoral and unacceptable, and is so considered by basically everyone except for the most devout Trump apologists and you, it probably is immoral and unacceptable.

          It’s definitely not a good epistemic principle to accept as evidence of p that an expert on the topic says that p when p is provably false or nonsense. It’s a terrible epistemic principle. See my discussion of the article by the guy who did opposition research on Trump for an example. It’s also a terrible epistemic principle to give any weight to claims made by the intelligence community on a country that has bad relations with the US when no evidence is provided. In fact, given its track-record, a good epistemic principle is arguably to decrease your credence in p if p is a claim about a country the US has bad relations with and no evidence is provided for that claim. That’s because while I know of several cases in which such a p was later proven to be false, I can’t think of a single one in which it was later proven to be true. Not. a. single. one. As for the investigation, again, I will reply in a detailed post as soon as possible. But I will say for the record that I’m not the only person who isn’t a devout Trump apologist and thinks the same thing. There are many others, it’s just that you don’t know about them, because the New York Times won’t publish what they say about this. Michael Tracey, for instance, isn’t a devout Trump apologist.

          With which argument? That if the intelligence community claims to have conclusive evidence of something that is threatening to the US political system, which might have repercussions for future elections and for the current administration, one should open an investigation? That sounds like a better argument than the one which you seem to be implying: the absence of current evidence that is conclusive implies the absence of future conclusive evidence. With that argument, we could never justify investigations on anyone about anything.

          Again, I will reply more at lengths on this point in a separate post.

          The way I see it, is that you’ve already committed yourself so strongly to the view that the Russia narrative is nonsense, that the burden of proof required to convince you otherwise has become irrationally high, and each and every statement in favour of that narrative is met with hyperbolic scepticism. As I mentioned in the beginning, I think you make a convincing case that one should be very sceptical on accepting statements that are presented as established facts by the MSM, but the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction if the default assumption ought to be that each and every one of those so-called facts are blatantly false. I don’t think that’s a sound epistemic principle.

          I have no idea what you’re talking about. The standard of proof required to convince me is quite low and has always been the same and you couldn’t find any evidence of the contrary. I also deny that any of the things I say amounts to hyperbolic skepticism and you certainly haven’t shown that any of it was. It would be very simple to convince me that Trump colluded with Russia to subvert the election: just give any evidence that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to commit a crime. For instance, show me evidence that, as countless people have claimed, Trump’s campaign made a deal with Russia to change the GOP platform on Ukraine in exchange for the release of the DNC emails by Moscow. This is what people who accused Trump of colluding with Russia were talking about. If you show me conclusive evidence of that, I will concede that I was wrong. Even if the evidence is not conclusive, as long as it’s evidence of that and not something completely different, I will at least concede that now this story is not purely nonsense after all. But we don’t have any evidence of either sort and we definitely won’t have any conclusive evidence that this happened, because it never happened.

  2. Thank you for your well–reasoned piece, and thank you for destroying most of Sander Beckers’ arguments so thoroughly. Hopefully he will slither away and lick his wounds, say, oh, for six months. I also appreciate you freely admitting the (rather few) rational points he made and staying honest; it is impossible to be perfectly correct about everything in an essay of thousands of words.
    Best of luck with this Sysiphean task!

  3. Was brought here via your comments on ConsortiumNews. Thank you for this mammoth piece, and in particular, for the ensuing discussion. I think Sander Beckers should also be commended for bringing up the various points for you to respond to. A really detailed, thorough and, ultimately, illuminating discussion. If only we could see stuff like that in any of the MSM outlets in this country! 🙁

  4. Oh forgot – the one thing I don’t believe you cover here is that, legally, Junior’s meeting was, apparently, potentially a violation of federal campaign finance laws because the promised dirt was coming from a foreign national. Words like “solicitation” and “intent” and “attempt to acquire” are being used a lot in the sense that apparently even expressing mere willingness to acquire from a foreign national/government could of and in itself be construed as a violation, i.e. the law does not require actual acquisition to have taken place. Of course, this, even if true, is still a far cry from the original goalposts of this entire Trump-Russia hysteria that you discuss above. And also, it would seem that under those legal interpretations BOTH 2016 campaigns (and a number of previous ones over past decades) would qualify as guilty of a breach.

    1. 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. And Clinton’s campaign or at least the DNC is presumably in more legal trouble, since they actually collaborated with a foreign government, instead of just expressed a willingness to do so. But honestly I would be baffled if anyone in Trump Jr. ended up getting even as much as a fine for this.

        1. See for instance the articles written by Eugene Volokh that I linked to below in my exchange with Sander. It’s basically a reductio ad absurdum of the view that what Donald Trump Jr. did was illegal. I’ve seen many other legal experts say they are skeptical of that view, such as Orin Kerr on Twitter. He makes a different argument than Volokh, but as a non-lawyer it’s Volokh’s argument I find the most convincing, because you don’t need to know anything about the jurisprudence on campaign finance law to see that he has got to be right. I doubt that, if you asked legal experts who claim it was illegal to put money on it, there would be many of them left…

  5. Rather than “licking my wounds”, as Ames suggests, I prefer to continue this effort at getting to the bottom of this.

    1:
    “But it’s really the media I’m going after, because you’re right that politicians are going to be politicians. First, the sentence you say accurately describes the situation is false or, at least, we have no evidence whatsoever that it’s true, because we have no evidence that Donald Trump Jr. expected a quid pro quo.“

    Well I actually intended the interpretation such that the lawyer expected it, but I see that the sentence can be read both ways. In any case, your demands for evidence at this point are severely straining credibility. Here’s a rich businessman whose father is running for president, who has agreed on a meeting with someone that he believes might be connected to the Russian government, on the premise that said government is helping his father’s campaign, expecting to be handed over dirt on Clinton. Only an idiot would walk into that meeting without even entertaining the possibility that the other party involved would like something out of it as well. Further, this is just regarding the reasoning going into the meeting. The details of the meeting make it abundantly clear that a quid pro quo was indeed the intention on Veselnitskaya’s part. That’s what we know. What we don’t know, is if Trump Jr.’s defense that nothing really happened is true. It is beyond me how you can dismiss this situation as “nothing”, and not requiring further investigation.

    Below is an overview of legal experts talking about this. As I said to you before: I hope we can agree that at least some of these legal experts must be attempting to give an unbiased professional opinion. If one were to focus on only a single expert, then one could choose to defend whatever view one wanted, since their opinions vary greatly. So a bad journalist could just cherrypick one of them, and use it to argue that crimes have been committed, and another one would pick another one and conclude that everything we know so far isn’t very serious at all. The honest thing to do is of course take all of their opinions into account. The picture that one gets from this is that collusion is a useless term from a legal perspective, that there is enough evidence now to at least investigate if crimes have been committed, that the current evidence is far from conclusive, and that the Ukraine dealings from Clinton are also shady. In any case, only one out of fifteen of these experts claims that in a legal sense, there’s probably nothing interesting. As a non-expert, I consider the rational take-away message that it’s quite likely there is enough here to investigate.

    2:
    “do you think they don’t know many people are just going to assume Trump colluded with Russia? And do you think it’s not why they do it? Please.”

    Yes, that’s why I agree with your analysis that the media is doing a terrible job at this, and jumps to conclusions. I take issue only with the fact that you jump to the opposite conclusion, and consider everything that is being said out there as entirely unreliable. Whenever anyone with some standing on a topic says something, you dismiss their epistemic authority on the grounds that they have an ulterior motive. That’s the same strategy used by Scientology, or by social justice warriors. There’s a difference in keeping in mind the possibility of an ulterior motive, or even the possibility of just plain stupidity, and making it the default assumption whenever you hear something that goes against your own beliefs. Here’s another example where you do this:
    “But as I explained to you the other day at the bar, most Republicans hate Trump, who essentially did a hostile take-over on their party, at least as much as the Democrats. If you don’t know that, you haven’t been following the campaign very closely. In particular, both Krauthammer and McCarthy were NeverTrumpers during the campaign, said they would never for Trump and wrote a lot of things against him, even after the primary was over.”

    From the mere fact that they hate Trump, you seem to conclude that their words are meaningless. Is that really your view of educated human beings, that any assertion they make is grounded in ideological or selfish motives?

    3:
    “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, but neither your nor anyone else ever gives any argument for this view, which is because there isn’t any good one. Not only do I think it’s false that it’s always wrong to do that, but I think it’s obviously false.”

    I don’t claim that it’s always wrong, I’m simply denying that two wrongs make a right. To assess whether this particular attempt at using opposition research is wrong, I have at my disposal basically two sources of information:
    a: my own unprofessional interpretation and intuition that is based on my views about politics, US/Russia relations, the ongoing investigations of Russia’s interference in the election based on US intelligence recommendations, the Trump campaign’s repeated statements that no such meetings took place, and the moral character of those involved in Trump’s campaign.
    b: statements made by people who are – or ought to be – far more knowledgeable about all of this than I am, such as politicians and journalists, but most importantly the legal experts mentioned.
    Both of those sources of information point towards the view that this meeting was definitely a big deal, which should be further investigated.

    4:
    “It’s exactly the same thing with Trump, except that there isn’t even evidence of collusion in the weak sense of accepting dirt on Clinton from Russia, only evidence of a willingness to do so,”

    Surely evidence of the willingness to collude is evidence in favour of collusion, in the Bayesian sense that it increases the posterior probability that collusion occurred?! So if the current investigations already were legitimate, this revelation offers a strong incentive to continue them. You disagree about their legitimacy, but that’s a separate argument.
    And sure, many have alluded to far more extreme and widespread forms of collusion, and the hacking of the e-mails usually played a role in that. But it’s still a terrible defence from Trump surrogates to say that the attempt at collusion that has been discovered is not exactly what people were talking about, after they have been saying for months that the suggestion that the Trump campaign collaborated with Russia to help Trump win is a disgusting lie, a political witch-hunt, and that no meetings about such collaboration ever occurred between people in the campaign and Russian agents. (You dispute that the person was a Russian agent, but that’s in any case what Trump Jr. believed her to be, or hoped her to be.)

    5:
    Regarding Krauthhammer:
    “He surely knows that the DNC actually accepted dirt from Ukraine, not just intended to do so. His argument is basically that what Trump Jr. tried to do is worse because Russia is bad and Ukraine is not.”

    He doesn’t even mention that the DNC accepted dirt from Ukraine, so your characterisation of his argument is definitely false. If you’re right about the Clinton campaign and Ukraine, then fine, investigate that as well, I don’t care, and I don’t think Krauthammer would either. More on that below.

    6:
    “(In fact, that’s precisely why this whole collusion nonsense was invented, because Washington’s foreign policy establishment does not want to hear about a rapprochement with Russia, as Obama previously found out.) “

    So the US intelligence services are just a puppet of Washington’s foreign policy establishment? I can understand that they are somewhat influenced by them, but for your analysis to be true they would have to be entirely corrupted.

    7:
    “it requires that we want to uphold the basic principles of a democratic and liberal society. Again, with the kind of standards you implicitly accept, you could justify an investigation into anything about anyone. “

    As I said, my standard is that if the major US intelligence agencies claim to have proof of something, and they have been able to convince politicians (from both parties) of this in closed-door meetings, then that is a sound basis to start an investigation. Is that not part of a democratic and liberal society? What is your standard?

    8:
    “You do realize that, in order to support the case against Trump, you cite a guy who, by his own admission, was doing opposition research on Trump during the campaign? “

    I refer here to my previous point regarding your epistemic standard on assertions.

    9:
    “1) Russia is bad but not Ukraine and 2) the information Ukraine provided was legitimately worrisome information about Manafort. I already addressed 1 above. As for 2, that’s completely stupid: what evidence is there that Trump Jr. wasn’t expecting genuinely worrisome information on crimes committed by Clinton? There isn’t any and, in fact, the only evidence we have (Goldstone’s emails) says that it’s exactly what he was expecting. But the author of that article instead suggest that he was expecting information stolen by hackers, which nothing suggests at all. Not only does Goldstone’s email say nothing about it, but at the time the hacking of the DNC wasn’t even public. This is a prime example of the dishonest shift about collusion I talk about in my post and above in this comment: people are trying to pretend that these emails are evidence of the kind of collusion they were talking about, i. e. stuff about the hacked emails, when it is simply not the case. I don’t even understand how you can think that this waste of paper of an article is any good.”

    Regarding 1), it’s not a matter of “bad” or “good” in absolute terms, but about bad or good relations with the US. The morality of those relations themselves isn’t what matters, what we’re assessing is the seriousness of collaborating with these countries for opposition research, and obviously it’s more serious to do so with a country that is on less friendly terms with the US. But as I said, I have no problem with investigating what the DNC did with Ukraine. There is of course a big difference between investigating the possible impact of collusion between a superpower and the campaign of the actual president, and an investigation into the possible impact of collusion between a country that is barely surviving and the campaign of someone who lost the elections and has no political function.
    Regarding 2), I agree that he singles out hacked information although there’s no basis for doing so. Still, if what he says is true, we know what information was involved in the Ukraine case, and it wasn’t obtained illegally: “Conveniently left out, though, is that those efforts were to expose Paul Manafort’s very problematic ties to Russia—information that was released to the public and obtained lawfully by a Ukrainian anti-corruption probe. And that’s really the big point. When digging for “dirt,” you should not pursue information obtained illicitly, whether by Russian hackers or Nixonian Plumbers. “
    If it is true that the information gotten by the DNC wasn’t obtained illegally, then it’s clear-cut that the two cases aren’t the same at all, at least not until we have established whether Trump Jr. accepted any information and of what kind.

    10:
    “ So you are accusing Trump Jr. of a lie that, as far as we know, he didn’t commit.”

    For Trump Jr.’s statement that “ it’s a disgusting lie to claim that Russia was interfering in the election to support Trump,” to be a lie, doesn’t require that Trump Jr. believed Russia was supporting his father, only that it’s not at all disgusting to entertain the idea. He at least gave the idea some thought a few weeks before, rather than dismissing it as a disgusting lie, and then afterwards he accuses people who are suggesting it of being disgusting liars.

    11:
    “It’s definitely not a good epistemic principle to accept as evidence of p that an expert on the topic says that p when p is provably false or nonsense. “

    How is it provably false that Russia interfered in the US elections?! If you can prove that, then you can make a lot of money.

    12:
    “It’s also a terrible epistemic principle to give any weight to claims made by the intelligence community on a country that has bad relations with the US when no evidence is provided. In fact, given its track-record, a good epistemic principle is arguably to decrease your credence in p if p is a claim about a country the US has bad relations with and no evidence is provided for that claim. That’s because while I know of several cases in which such a p was later proven to be false, I can’t think of a single one in which it was later proven to be true. Not. a. single. one. “
    So you’re saying that US intelligence agencies always lie when they make statement about a hostile country? I don’t even know what to say to that, except that I would never want to live in a country where I believed that to be true.

    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/07/12/what-is-collusion-215366

    1. Well I actually intended the interpretation such that the lawyer expected it, but I see that the sentence can be read both ways. In any case, your demands for evidence at this point are severely straining credibility. Here’s a rich businessman whose father is running for president, who has agreed on a meeting with someone that he believes might be connected to the Russian government, on the premise that said government is helping his father’s campaign, expecting to be handed over dirt on Clinton. Only an idiot would walk into that meeting without even entertaining the possibility that the other party involved would like something out of it as well.

      He was told in the email that someone connected to the Russian government wanted to give Trump’s campaign dirt on Clinton. Nowhere in that email is there any mention of a quid pro quo. You say that it’s obvious that there would be a quid pro quo, but that’s obviously false. It was clear that Moscow preferred Trump to Clinton, nobody is disputing that. (What people are disputing is that it makes it likely that Russia would actively intervene to help Trump.) Trump’s victory would already have been a good thing for Russia, so there would be no need to arrange a quid pro quo, especially since it would be very dangerous in case they get caught. (That’s one of the many reasons why this collusion bullshit is implausible on its face, because it assumes that Putin would do something that imprudent, which given his track-record would be surprising.) 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.

      Further, this is just regarding the reasoning going into the meeting. The details of the meeting make it abundantly clear that a quid pro quo was indeed the intention on Veselnitskaya’s part. That’s what we know. What we don’t know, is if Trump Jr.’s defense that nothing really happened is true. It is beyond me how you can dismiss this situation as “nothing”, and not requiring further investigation.

      I agree that a quid pro quo seems to have been what Veselnitskaya had in mind, but that’s completely irrelevant, because 1) there is no evidence that the Russian government had anything to do with her effort and 2) there is no evidence that anyone in Trump’s campaign was interested in the quid pro quo she had in mind. In fact, it’s even worse than that, because the evidence strongly suggests that 1) the Russian government didn’t have anything to do with her efforts and 2) people in Trump’s campaign had no interest in what she had in mind. Again, no information of the sort described in the email and described by every participant to that meeting ever surfaced during the campaign, so I really don’t see why you think we need to investigate this further. 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. If this weren’t true, then we should also put the DNC and/or Clinton’s campaign under investigation for conspiring with Ukraine to fabricate a ledger implicating Manafort, because the situation is exactly analogous. (Before you say it’s not, think hard about it, because I can guarantee you that, in arguing that it’s not analogous in the relevant way, you’re going to have to assume that we know things we don’t actually know, e. g. that Russia hacked the DNC and released the stolen material.) But nobody is saying that, because it’s absurd since there is no evidence of that, only evidence that the DNC and Clinton’s campaign received information on Trump’s campaign from Ukraine.

      Below is an overview of legal experts talking about this. As I said to you before: I hope we can agree that at least some of these legal experts must be attempting to give an unbiased professional opinion. If one were to focus on only a single expert, then one could choose to defend whatever view one wanted, since their opinions vary greatly. So a bad journalist could just cherrypick one of them, and use it to argue that crimes have been committed, and another one would pick another one and conclude that everything we know so far isn’t very serious at all. The honest thing to do is of course take all of their opinions into account. The picture that one gets from this is that collusion is a useless term from a legal perspective, that there is enough evidence now to at least investigate if crimes have been committed, that the current evidence is far from conclusive, and that the Ukraine dealings from Clinton are also shady. In any case, only one out of fifteen of these experts claims that in a legal sense, there’s probably nothing interesting. As a non-expert, I consider the rational take-away message that it’s quite likely there is enough here to investigate.

      First, you don’t know how these experts were chosen, nor what is their opinion of Trump. Without knowing that, you can’t really conclude anything from the fact that only one of them thought there was nothing interesting. Now, there are also many legal experts who think what Donald Trump Jr. did was not illegal and, frankly, even without being a lawyer, it’s hard not to see how far-fetched the arguments of the people who say it was illegal are. In particular, what they say is implausible because, if they were right, it would make a lot of things which are obviously legal not legal and run afoul of the first amendment. Eugene Volokh, not exactly a fan of Trump, essentially made that point on the Washington Post. 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.

      Yes, that’s why I agree with your analysis that the media is doing a terrible job at this, and jumps to conclusions. I take issue only with the fact that you jump to the opposite conclusion, and consider everything that is being said out there as entirely unreliable. Whenever anyone with some standing on a topic says something, you dismiss their epistemic authority on the grounds that they have an ulterior motive. That’s the same strategy used by Scientology, or by social justice warriors. There’s a difference in keeping in mind the possibility of an ulterior motive, or even the possibility of just plain stupidity, and making it the default assumption whenever you hear something that goes against your own beliefs. Here’s another example where you do this:
      “But as I explained to you the other day at the bar, most Republicans hate Trump, who essentially did a hostile take-over on their party, at least as much as the Democrats. If you don’t know that, you haven’t been following the campaign very closely. In particular, both Krauthammer and McCarthy were NeverTrumpers during the campaign, said they would never for Trump and wrote a lot of things against him, even after the primary was over.”
      From the mere fact that they hate Trump, you seem to conclude that their words are meaningless. Is that really your view of educated human beings, that any assertion they make is grounded in ideological or selfish motives?

      Again, you’re ascribing to me an argument that I have never made and, if I ask you to quote a passage where I made this argument, you won’t be able to find any. The passage you quote certainly isn’t one. In this passage, 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. You are basically accusing me of committing the ad hominem fallacy, but while I do on occasions make ad hominem attacks against people who buy into this, I never commit the ad hominem fallacy. I would commit that fallacy if I pointed out that someone who says p doesn’t like Trump and concluded that, as a result, p must be false. But again I never did that and indeed you couldn’t find a single passage where I do. What I do is debunk their arguments and, at the same time, point out that they are biased against Trump, but I don’t conclude the former from the latter.

      I don’t claim that it’s always wrong, I’m simply denying that two wrongs make a right. To assess whether this particular attempt at using opposition research is wrong, I have at my disposal basically two sources of information:
      a: my own unprofessional interpretation and intuition that is based on my views about politics, US/Russia relations, the ongoing investigations of Russia’s interference in the election based on US intelligence recommendations, the Trump campaign’s repeated statements that no such meetings took place, and the moral character of those involved in Trump’s campaign.
      b: statements made by people who are – or ought to be – far more knowledgeable about all of this than I am, such as politicians and journalists, but most importantly the legal experts mentioned.
      Both of those sources of information point towards the view that this meeting was definitely a big deal, which should be further investigated.

      If you don’t think it’s always wrong, then you have to argue that, in this particular case, it was wrong. But you won’t be able to do so, because there is no way anyway can show that based on the evidence we have. Judging from the emails, and the way the participants described the conversation (you could think that they coordinated their statements to the media, but if they did it will probably come out, since they must have been put under surveillance after the NYT article), it looks as though he was expecting evidence that Clinton had done something illegal or immoral in her dealings with Russia. I really don’t see what’s wrong with wanting to get such information if it exists, whether it comes from the Russian government or anybody else. To be sure, you’d want to make sure the evidence is conclusive and that you’re not being manipulated, but those are just prudential considerations. I don’t care about the opinion of politicians and journalists, for reasons that should now be clear, namely because they do not know more than me about any of this. As for the legal experts, I already pointed out that many disagreed that Donald Trump Jr. did anything illegal and they have a very good case because the others use arguments that have wildly implausible consequences, but it doesn’t really matter because I’m making a moral point here, not a legal one. If it’s illegal to do that, then the law should be changed, because that’s absurd.

      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. This shit has happened several times in the past, the Democrats did worse in 2016 and yet nobody ever gave a shit or was prosecuted for it despite the fact that it has been known for months and that we know for a fact it actually happened whereas everything indicates that, in the case of Trump’s campaign, it didn’t go further than this meeting. Again, as I keep pointing out, no information of the sort that was promised in that email ever surfaced. Again, I’m loathe to talk about the investigation now, because I plan to write a post about this specifically. 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.

      Surely evidence of the willingness to collude is evidence in favour of collusion, in the Bayesian sense that it increases the posterior probability that collusion occurred?! So if the current investigations already were legitimate, this revelation offers a strong incentive to continue them. You disagree about their legitimacy, but that’s a separate argument.

      As formal epistemologists often point out, that’s not what “evidence” means in ordinary language, because it makes way too easy for something to count as evidence. 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. 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.

      And sure, many have alluded to far more extreme and widespread forms of collusion, and the hacking of the e-mails usually played a role in that. But it’s still a terrible defence from Trump surrogates to say that the attempt at collusion that has been discovered is not exactly what people were talking about, after they have been saying for months that the suggestion that the Trump campaign collaborated with Russia to help Trump win is a disgusting lie, a political witch-hunt, and that no meetings about such collaboration ever occurred between people in the campaign and Russian agents. (You dispute that the person was a Russian agent, but that’s in any case what Trump Jr. believed her to be, or hoped her to be.)

      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. Again, I doubt you could find a single person who accused Trump of collusion with Russia or suggested that he might have done so before Donald Trump Jr. released his emails who, upon saying what he meant by that, talked about something as trivial as getting dirt on Clinton from the Russian government. But you will find thousands of articles who explicitly connected that accusation with the hacking of the DNC/Podesta’s emails. And that’s really not surprising given that it has been known for months that their candidate had actually done exactly what Trump’s campaign has only tried to do. In fact, even in articles written after Donald Trump Jr. released his email, there is almost always systematically a reference to the hacking of the DNC/Podesta emails. 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.

      He doesn’t even mention that the DNC accepted dirt from Ukraine, so your characterisation of his argument is definitely false. If you’re right about the Clinton campaign and Ukraine, then fine, investigate that as well, I don’t care, and I don’t think Krauthammer would either. More on that below.

      The fact that he doesn’t mention what the DNC did is precisely what I’m criticizing him for. The point I’m making is that he knows the DNC did that, which is why he tries to argue that accepting information from Russia is particularly bad, telling all sorts of lies and making all kinds of misleading statements in the process. And the point is also that, while you may not care whether they are, the fact is that the DNC and Clinton’s campaign are not being investigated for what they did, unlike Trump’s campaign. 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. Similarly, Krauthammer may not mind if Clinton and the DNC were prosecuted, but the fact is that he never wrote a single article to ask that they be put under investigation. Why not, if what is really problematic here is getting information from a foreign government? The reason is of course because he doesn’t care as long as it’s not Trump who does it with Russia, which is precisely the point I was making. And he is right not to care, because there is nothing wrong in accepting information on your opponent from a foreign government, as long it’s provably true information.

      So the US intelligence services are just a puppet of Washington’s foreign policy establishment? I can understand that they are somewhat influenced by them, but for your analysis to be true they would have to be entirely corrupted.

      The US intelligence services are not a puppet of Washington’s foreign policy establishment, they are a crucial part of it. But despite what you’re suggesting, I’m not simply asserting that the US intelligence services are not to be trusted, I point out to their track-record which you completely ignore. Again, can you give one example where the US government released an intelligence assessment making a claim about an adversary with no evidence whatsoever, such as the January 6 report on Russian interference released by the ODNI, which has ever proven to be true? No, you can’t, because there isn’t any. On the other hand, as I pointed out, there are many cases where it was proven to be false. Given this track-record, one has to be completely irrational to take seriously that kind of evidence-free claims. I’m perfectly willing to believe the US intelligence, but I require evidence, because I’m no fool and to accept what it says about an adversary of the US when it provides no evidence whatsoever is to be a fool.

      As I said, my standard is that if the major US intelligence agencies claim to have proof of something, and they have been able to convince politicians (from both parties) of this in closed-door meetings, then that is a sound basis to start an investigation. Is that not part of a democratic and liberal society? What is your standard?

      First, the US intelligence agencies don’t claim to have a proof that Trump colluded with Russia. In fact, as I already noted, its leaders have repeatedly stated that they don’t even have any evidence that such a collusion ever took place. (Strictly speaking, if you read the report published last January about Russia interference, they don’t even claim to have proof of that either.) Even if it did make that claim, the fact that it does and that it has been able to convince politicians from both parties of that (not that it would mean anything given that again Republicans hate Trump at least as much as Democrats) would not be a good reason to have such an investigation, because the same politicians were also convinced of many other things which later proved to be false. Again, I plan to write a post specifically about the investigation, so I won’t say much here. But, in a nutshell, my standard is that, if you want to start an investigation led by unelected bureaucrats that effectively questions the legitimacy of a democratically elected government, you should be willing to make public the probable cause on which this investigation is predicated. If they’re not willing to do so, I say too bad for them, but I don’t see why the public should let unelected officials who have a proven track-record of lying and getting things wrong effectively question the legitimacy of a democratically elected government who aren’t willing to publicly give probable cause.

      I refer here to my previous point regarding your epistemic standard on assertions.

      Again, you are suggesting that I’m committing the ad hominem fallacy, which I’m not. I was just pointing how ridiculous it was for you to cite as an authority a guy who, by his own admission, did opposition research on Trump and merely note that “he may not be a Trump supporter”. But I didn’t infer from the fact that he did opposition research that he was wrong, I methodically demonstrated that his arguments were crap. And boy they were crap!

      Regarding 1), it’s not a matter of “bad” or “good” in absolute terms, but about bad or good relations with the US. The morality of those relations themselves isn’t what matters, what we’re assessing is the seriousness of collaborating with these countries for opposition research, and obviously it’s more serious to do so with a country that is on less friendly terms with the US. But as I said, I have no problem with investigating what the DNC did with Ukraine. There is of course a big difference between investigating the possible impact of collusion between a superpower and the campaign of the actual president, and an investigation into the possible impact of collusion between a country that is barely surviving and the campaign of someone who lost the elections and has no political function.

      Why is it worse to accept information from a country that has bad relations with the US, especially if you think the US shouldn’t have bad relations with it, than from a country which does not? You state that as if it were obvious, but not only is it not obvious, but I think it’s obviously false. Again, suppose that a foreign government approached a campaign with information that proves beyond reasonable doubt that Clinton was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children. It obviously wouldn’t be wrong to use that information, provided it really were conclusive, even if it came from North Korea. Not only are you totally ignoring the point I made about 1, but you’re actually doing precisely what I was criticizing, by predicating your argument on views about Russia and Ukraine that many disagree with and that, crucially, people in Trump’s campaign would disagree with independently of the accusations of collusion. 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. Again, the Ukrainian government that the DNC collaborated with is the result of a coup, and killed thousands of civilians in the East who didn’t accept the outcome of this coup. I also think that the Ukrainian government is harming the interest of the US far more than Russia does, because I don’t believe that it’s in the interests of the US to side with Ukraine against Russia, for reasons that would take a long time to explain but which I sketched in this article I published in The Nation in 2014. 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. Finally, the fact that Clinton lost the election and does not currently hold any political office is totally irrelevant, both morally and legally.

      Regarding 2), I agree that he singles out hacked information although there’s no basis for doing so. Still, if what he says is true, we know what information was involved in the Ukraine case, and it wasn’t obtained illegally: “Conveniently left out, though, is that those efforts were to expose Paul Manafort’s very problematic ties to Russia—information that was released to the public and obtained lawfully by a Ukrainian anti-corruption probe. And that’s really the big point. When digging for “dirt,” you should not pursue information obtained illicitly, whether by Russian hackers or Nixonian Plumbers. “
      If it is true that the information gotten by the DNC wasn’t obtained illegally, then it’s clear-cut that the two cases aren’t the same at all, at least not until we have established whether Trump Jr. accepted any information and of what kind.

      First, we don’t actually know that the information obtained from Ukraine by the DNC wasn’t obtained illegally, since we know almost nothing about the nature of that information. And we know almost nothing about the nature of that information because journalists and the Justice Department, who are so concerned by a collusion between Trump and Russia which, as far as we know, never took place, did not investigate at all the collusion between the DNC and Ukraine which we know took place. Moreover, despite what the author of that article claims, no information on Manafort’s ties with Russia, problematic or not, was ever uncovered as far as we know. What was uncovered was a ledger that allegedly contains the names of people, including Manafort, who received illegal payments from the party of the former Ukrainian president, the one who was ousted by a coup supported by the US. And as Politico revealed, people in Ukraine have now changed their tune, and suggest that the ledger may have been forged. So it’s also not true that we have no reason to think that the information obtained from the DNC wasn’t obtained illegally, because at least one part of the Ukrainian effort against Trump’s campaign may have been the result of a forgery, which is definitely illegal. We don’t know that it was a forgery for sure, nor that the DNC had any involvement in that, but that’s still more than in the case of Trump’s campaign, since as far as we know it didn’t collaborate with Russia in any way. So I agree that there is a clear-cut difference between the two cases, but despite what you seem to think and what the piece of shit who wrote this article claims, the difference plays in favor of Trump’s campaign, not the other way around. Again, there is no evidence that Trump’s campaign actually collaborated with Russia, let alone that it had anything to do with the DNC hack as the author suggests. What you’re doing in the last sentence of this passage is truly amazing. Of course, if the information Ukraine gave the DNC wasn’t obtained illegally and if Trump’s campaign got information from Russia that was obtained illegally, then it’s true that what Trump’s campaign did is bad in a way what the DNC did isn’t. 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, nor that Trump’s campaign received any information from Russia that was obtained illegally. In fact, there is no evidence that Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia at all, whereas there is plenty of evidence that the DNC collaborated with Ukraine and that Clinton’s campaign knew about it.

      For Trump Jr.’s statement that “ it’s a disgusting lie to claim that Russia was interfering in the election to support Trump,” to be a lie, doesn’t require that Trump Jr. believed Russia was supporting his father, only that it’s not at all disgusting to entertain the idea. He at least gave the idea some thought a few weeks before, rather than dismissing it as a disgusting lie, and then afterwards he accuses people who are suggesting it of being disgusting liars.

      I don’t see why. You’re basically making unwarranted assumptions about his mental states. It’s true that Trump Jr. clearly at one point thought it was a possibility that Russia would interfere to help his father, but we don’t know how plausible he thought that was and, perhaps more importantly, we have no idea that he hadn’t become convinced it was false by the time he made that statement. It wouldn’t be surprising if, after this meeting with Veselnitskaya, and the rest of the campaign, he formed the belief that it was false that Russia intervened in the election to help his father. Even if that’s not the case, people use the word “lie” incorrectly all the time to talk about statements that are merely false but with no intention to mislead or assertions that are made with no evidence to back them, so we don’t know that it’s not how Trump Jr. was using the term. In fact, despite what you say, he didn’t claim that it was disgusting to entertain the idea, but that it was a lie to claim that Russia interfered in that way. This makes it pretty clear to me that what he was criticizing was the unwarranted assertion and, if that’s what he meant, he was entirely right to find that disgusting. But his own statement wouldn’t be a lie unless he was using the term “lie” in the technically correct, though often poorly understood, sense. Now, before you accuse me of doing what I was criticizing you for, namely making assumptions about Trump Jr.’s mental states, I’m just going to point out that it’s not what I’m doing at all. I’m not saying that my interpretation is for sure what Trump Jr. had in mind, I’m just pointing out that you have to assume it wasn’t, if you want to accuse him of lying.

      How is it provably false that Russia interfered in the US elections?! If you can prove that, then you can make a lot of money.

      I realize that it wasn’t clear, 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 (although to justify the investigation into the accusations of collusion with Russia by Trump, for which these claims by the US intelligence about Russian interference provide no justification), but I was referring to your general tendency to think that we ought to lend credence to claims made by experts because they’re experts, not this one in particular. 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.

      So you’re saying that US intelligence agencies always lie when they make statement about a hostile country? I don’t even know what to say to that, except that I would never want to live in a country where I believed that to be true.

      No, I never said that, and I think it’s very clear what I said. There are several examples of the US government releasing an evidence-free intelligence estimate about an adversary, of which several have later been proven to be false and none have proven to be true. You still haven’t disputed that fact, and you can’t dispute it, because it’s true. I’m just pointing out that, given this track-record, one has to be completely irrational to trust evidence-free claims made by the US intelligence about adversaries of the US.

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