In some ways, it is stunning how the grand narrative of Russiagate continues to rule hearts and minds.
Even commentators who fully “get” that there was never any reason to suspect Trump or his campaign team of “colluding” with Russia still speak as if that were a valid proposition, and as if all our discourse must be governed by it as the central premise.
They are wrong, and it is dangerous, to keep doing so. It misses the point in a way that could destroy our nation’s future.
There is only a framework for something similar to “obstruction” if there was actually an “investigation” that sought to “determine” whether there had been some act or set of acts that constituted “collusion” during the 2016 election campaign.
But there wasn’t. The “acts” are the key. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI knew, before the special counsel was appointed in May 2017, that there had been no such acts. They knew that because they had had the Trump campaign under surveillance of multiple kinds during the campaign.
They “found” nothing even though the surveillance they brought to bear allowed them to inspect the lives of Trump and his associates going back years before the 2016 campaign. At the absolute latest, they were able to review such information by the last week of October 2016. More likely, they were reviewing it earlier than that, at the very least using the FISA authority the FBI had (on a separate basis) for Paul Manafort up through the spring of 2016.
They had also deployed Stefan Halper to snoop around the campaign prior to obtaining the FISA authority.
The evidence has been insistent that they started the surveillance before the clues they allegedly used as a basis for suspicion were even afforded to them. Those clues include the Steele dossier.
But even if they didn’t, they had all the forensic material on the 2016 election by the end of October 2016. I hate to say “Let that sink in,” but I’ll say it anyway. Let that sink in. Everything they have today, on Carter Page’s communications and those of anyone he had been in contact with prior to and during the campaign, they had at the very latest by October 2016.
We, the American people, didn’t know all that before the 2017 congressional investigations were started and the special counsel was appointed.
But the DOJ, the FBI, and the special counsel knew.
That means there was never any good-faith “investigation” to “determine” whether acts of “collusion” occurred. There could not have been such an investigation.
Moreover, as I have pointed out several times now, the narrative we have been given about what Russia did is full of holes in logic big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through. It is the opposite of a professionally executed intelligence estimate.
I have no doubt that Russia wanted to have psycho-political influence on the themes and priorities of our election. I have never doubted or disputed that, because it’s what Russia has been doing for the last 100 years. I also have no doubt that Russia would engage in cyber-intrusion against our organized political parties, and would try to plant propaganda themes where Americans are sure to find them – which today includes social media.
But the narrative being retailed about the particulars of this alleged Russian campaign is in some ways literally idiotic. Maybe Russians are stupid enough to think the measures they are said to have taken would be effective. But Americans know ourselves better.
We don’t have to agree that the measures were effective – or even that the analysis of exactly how they were executed is valid – in the absence of actual proof.
The say-so of two U.S. intelligence agencies isn’t good enough when the end product is ridiculous.
That goes for the centerpiece of the drama, the Steele dossier, as well. On first reading it on 12 January 2017, I characterized it as asinine, and clearly not the product of an intelligence professional. Nothing has intervened in the years since to change that assessment.
It is important to address the “intelligence on Russians” aspect of Russiagate, because the weakness and incoherence of the story based on it make it crystal clear there was never any good-faith pretext for any of this.
It’s not just that law enforcement already knew in 2016 that there had been no “collusion” involving Trump. It’s that there was never an actionable threat to our election that justified turning government upside down for the last two years.
We can agree that cyber-intrusion and dezinformatsiya are what Russia does, and then take it seriously when we find instances of them. We should pursue them vigorously, gain intelligence, develop defenses, and find ways to punish and deter such acts.
But that’s a far cry from agreeing that we should raise false alarms in the Republic, throwing fuel for months on a bonfire of suspicion about the outcome of our last presidential election, and darkly implicating a president-elect in a vaguely sketched, fanciful scenario that never even happened.
That should not have been done. And that means there was never any good-faith reason to do any of this.
I don’t know how many times that has to be said before it sinks in, and all who think objectively about it realize that “obstruction” is a falsely manufactured talking point, and not a meaningful concern tethered to its significance in law.
However many times it is, we’ll just have to keep saying it. Stop talking about “obstruction.” Obstruction isn’t the story.
The story is a pseudo-“legal” process mounted without foundation against a president and his administration, apparently for some ulterior purpose – an outrage against the American people, and an unjust scourge wielded viciously against a set of individuals who have suffered tremendous personal losses for no motive of justice.
Of all the people in America, the person in the best position to see that clearly was the president, Donald Trump. Whatever his faults, he owes no one any explanations for the tone of his discourse on the matter. He didn’t violate either the spirit or the letter of the law; those who concocted a fairy tale to get a special counsel appointed did.
It is those individuals – the ones who abused our tools of security and justice – whose behavior has been appalling and sickening. It is they who owe us an explanation.