This piece is in response not just to some commenters here, but in light of a leak from a couple of days ago from Russia that may have been lost in the news noise and coronavirus world we live in. There are a few right-wing crazies on these boards who continually spout off and one of their favourite topics is that the Russia collusion thing was a hoax.
Except, it really wasn’t.
Before I go on, I advise anyone with access to Amazon Prime to go and watch the superb documentary Active Measures that meticulously compiles reams of evidence to implicate Trump and his team. Unless commenters who peddle “it’s a hox” can deal with all of that evidence, I don’t really want to hear from them.
If you don’t have to time to go elsewhere, stay here:
Part of the problem, like most arguments, comes down to definitions, in this case of the word “collusion”. As Just Security elucidates:
As a shorthand, we may use the term “collusion” to refer to these kinds of activities, which would be implicated in a counterintelligence analysis—though, as Asha Rangappa and I have written, the more analytically precise issues to consider are whether Trump Campaign associates “coordinated with, cooperated with, encouraged, or gave support” to the Russia/WikiLeaks election interference activities. Those are important questions regardless of whether such activities amounted to crimes, regardless of whether individuals’ actions and intentions can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, regardless of whether Americans acted as unwitting Kremlin assets in support of Russian operations, and regardless of whether individuals and organizations can be prosecuted without endangering First Amendment interests.
Although the Mueller Report does not squarely address these questions of “collusion” that fall outside the scope of potential criminal liability, it can be mined for substantive information that provides some meaningful answers.
The Mueller report was seen by some as letting Trump and his team off the hook and by others as indeed implicating him. Just Security introduces the findings of Mueller:
The redacted Mueller Report documents a series of activities that show strong evidence of collusion. Or, more precisely, it provides significant evidence that Trump Campaign associates coordinated with, cooperated with, encouraged, or gave support to the Russia/WikiLeaks election interference activities. The Report documents the following actions (each of which is analyzed in detail in Part II):
1. Trump was receptive to a Campaign national security adviser’s (George Papadopoulos) pursuit of a back channel to Putin.
2. Kremlin operatives provided the Campaign a preview of the Russian plan to distribute stolen emails.
3. The Trump Campaign chairman and deputy chairman (Paul Manafort and Rick Gates) knowingly shared internal polling data and information on battleground states with a Russian spy; and the Campaign chairman worked with the Russian spy on a pro-Russia “peace” plan for Ukraine.
4. The Trump Campaign chairman periodically shared internal polling data with the Russian spy with the expectation it would be shared with Putin-linked oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.
5. Trump Campaign chairman Manafort expected Trump’s winning the presidency would mean Deripaska would want to use Manafort to advance Deripaska’s interests in the United States and elsewhere.
6. Trump Tower meeting: (1) On receiving an email offering derogatory information on Clinton coming from a Russian government official, Donald Trump Jr. “appears to have accepted that offer;” (2) members of the Campaign discussed the Trump Tower meeting beforehand; (3) Donald Trump Jr. told the Russians during the meeting that Trump could revisit the issue of the Magnitsky Act if elected.
7. A Trump Campaign official told the Special Counsel he “felt obliged to object” to a GOP Platform change on Ukraine because it contradicted Trump’s wishes; however, the investigation did not establish that Gordon was directed by Trump.
8. Russian military hackers may have followed Trump’s July 27, 2016 public statement “Russia if you’re listening …” within hours by targeting Clinton’s personal office for the first time.
9. Trump requested campaign affiliates to get Clinton’s emails, which resulted in an individual apparently acting in coordination with the Campaign claiming to have successfully contacted Russian hackers.
10. The Trump Campaign—and Trump personally—appeared to have advanced knowledge of future WikiLeaks releases.
11. The Trump Campaign coordinated campaign-related public communications based on future WikiLeaks releases.
12. Michael Cohen, on behalf of the Trump Organization, brokered a secret deal for a Trump Tower Moscow project directly involving Putin’s inner circle, at least until June 2016.
13. During the presidential transition, Jared Kushner and Eric Prince engaged in secret back channel communications with Russian agents. (1) Kushner suggested to the Russian Ambassador that they use a secure communication line from within the Russian Embassy to speak with Russian Generals; and (2) Prince and Kushner’s friend Rick Gerson conducted secret back channel meetings with a Putin agent to develop a plan for U.S.-Russian relations.
14. During the presidential transition, in coordination with other members of the Transition Team, Michael Flynn spoke with the Russian Ambassador to prevent a tit for tat Russian response to the Obama administration’s imposition of sanctions for election interference; the Russians agreed not to retaliate saying they wanted a good relationship with the incoming administration.
During the course of 2016, Trump Campaign associates failed to report any of the Russian/WikiLeaks overtures to federal law enforcement, publicly denied any contacts with Russians/WikiLeaks, and actively encouraged the public to doubt that Russia was behind the hacking and distribution of stolen emails.
One qualification before proceeding to the analysis in Part II: a significant amount of relevant information was unavailable to Mueller due to four factors. First, as the Report states, “several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office,” and “those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.” Second, President Trump’s interference in the investigation also appears to have stymied the investigation. A key example is Paul Manafort’s failure to cooperate with the Special Counsel because he was apparently led to believe that President Trump would pardon him. Third, some individuals used encrypted communications or deleted their communications. Fourth, some of the individuals who “cooperated” with the investigation (e.g., Steve Bannon) appear to have been deceptive or not fully forthcoming in their dealings with the Special Counsel. Several individuals failed to recall the content of important conversations with Trump or other Campaign associates. The Report states, “Even when individuals testified or agreed to be interviewed, they sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete.”
Finally, some tips for reading the Mueller Report. It is important to keep in mind that the Report’s analysis is about whether or not to prosecute someone for a crime. Furthermore, statements that the investigation “did not establish” something occurred are not the same as saying there was “no evidence” that it occurred. The Report has clear ways of saying when the investigation found no evidence. It conveys the absence of any evidence when, for example, it states the investigation “did not identify evidence” or “did not uncover evidence” that something occurred. Even then, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. When there is “evidence of absence,” the Special Counsel was willing to say the investigation “established” effectively that something did not occur. For example, the Report states that the investigation “established” that interactions between the Russian Ambassador and Campaign officials at certain locations were “brief, public, and non-substantive.” That finding excludes the possibility that something more nefarious occurred in those particular interactions. A keen eye on these kinds of distinctions is important when reading the Report itself.
I suggest reading its whole analysis of the Mueller report here.
Which now brings me on to news from this week from the article “Kremlin papers appear to show Putin’s plot to put Trump in White House“:
Vladimir Putin personally authorised a secret spy agency operation to support a “mentally unstable” Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election during a closed session of Russia’s national security council, according to what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents.
The key meeting took place on 22 January 2016, the papers suggest, with the Russian president, his spy chiefs and senior ministers all present.
They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.
Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.
By this point Trump was the frontrunner in the Republican party’s nomination race. A report prepared by Putin’s expert department recommended Moscow use “all possible force” to ensure a Trump victory.
Western intelligence agencies are understood to have been aware of the documents for some months and to have carefully examined them. The papers, seen by the Guardian, seem to represent a serious and highly unusual leak from within the Kremlin.
The Guardian has shown the documents to independent experts who say they appear to be genuine. Incidental details come across as accurate. The overall tone and thrust is said to be consistent with Kremlin security thinking….
The report – “No 32-04 \ vd” – is classified as secret. It says Trump is the “most promising candidate” from the Kremlin’s point of view. The word in Russian is perspektivny.
There is a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex”.
There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.
The paper refers to “certain events” that happened during Trump’s trips to Moscow. Security council members are invited to find details in appendix five, at paragraph five, the document states. It is unclear what the appendix contains.
“It is acutely necessary to use all possible force to facilitate his [Trump’s] election to the post of US president,” the paper says.
This would help bring about Russia’s favoured “theoretical political scenario”. A Trump win “will definitely lead to the destabilisation of the US’s sociopolitical system” and see hidden discontent burst into the open, it predicts.
There is no doubt that the meeting in January 2016 took place – and that it was convened inside the Kremlin.
An official photo of the occasion shows Putin at the head of the table, seated beneath a Russian Federation flag and a two-headed golden eagle. Russia’s then prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, attended, together with the veteran foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov….
The document seen by the Guardian suggests the security council’s real, covert purpose was to discuss the confidential proposals drawn up by the president’s analytical service in response to US sanctions against Moscow….
Various measures are cited that the Kremlin might adopt in response to what it sees as hostile acts from Washington. The paper lays out several American weaknesses. These include a “deepening political gulf between left and right”, the US’s “media-information” space, and an anti-establishment mood under President Barack Obama….
There are paragraphs on how Russia might insert “media viruses” into American public life, which could become self-sustaining and self-replicating. These would alter mass consciousness, especially in certain groups, it says….
A matter of weeks after the security council meeting, GRU hackers raided the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and subsequently released thousands of private emails in an attempt to hurt Clinton’s election campaign….
Moscow would gain most from a Republican victory, the paper states. This could lead to a “social explosion” that would in turn weaken the US president, it says. There were international benefits from a Trump win, it stresses. Putin would be able in clandestine fashion to dominate any US-Russia bilateral talks, to deconstruct the White House’s negotiating position, and to pursue bold foreign policy initiatives on Russia’s behalf, it says….
What did Trump have to say to this? His statement was:
This is disgusting. It’s fake news, just like RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA was fake news. It’s just the Radical Left crazies doing whatever they can to demean everybody on the right.
It’s fiction, and nobody was tougher on Russia than me, including on the pipeline, and sanctions. At the same time we got along with Russia. Russia respected us, China respected us, Iran respected us, North Korea respected us.
And the world was a much safer place than it is now with mentally unstable leadership.
As ever, follow the money. Australia’s ABC did that in their three-part series:
But, you know, just shouting “it’s a hoax, dummy!” will surely suffice for some people.
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