NBC News Revives Debunked Claim Of Russia Hacking Voter Databases

I always find it ridiculous when CNN repeatedly calls news stories throughout the day “breaking news,” but NBC has taken this much further. NBC is taking a debunked claim of Russia hacking voter databases from several months ago, and labeled this “breaking news.” That would be like starting a news cast with a claim such as “Breaking News. There are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq requiring military action.”

This claim was first made months ago, with the Department of Homeland Security subsequently reporting during Congressional testimony that all that occurred was routine scanning of computer systems, with it commonplace for Russia and the United States to routinely scan each other’s computer systems. The same is true of much of “Russiagate” with it being common for both Russia and the United States to meddle in the elections of each other and other countries, with no evidence of any actions in 2016 which altered the election results. After months of investigations, there has been evidence of money laundering and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump, but no evidence of any collusion between Trump and Putin which affected the election, despite repeated claims from Democrats.

For whatever it might mean, some states have also accused the Department of Homeland Security of trying to hack into their system.

Glenn Greenwald discussed this story here.  This was only one of multiple examples of claims regarding Russia being made by the news media and later retracted. I listed this and other examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia.

Despite the claims in this story being both old news and false information, NBC and MSNBC continued to spread this false claim, which was subsequently picked up by other media outlets. As I noted earlier in the year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has  criticized the coverage of Russia by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

There very likely are vulnerabilities in our election systems which can be exploited. The proper response is to improve cyber-security. There is no place for the hysteria being spread by NBC and MSNBC, or for the McCarthyism and war mongering by some Democrats in response. It is dangerous to exaggerate Russian actions to place the blame for Clinton’s loss on a nuclear power such as Russia. This also leads to many Democrats failing to accept the real reasons why Hillary Clinton lost to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, reducing the chances that the Democrats will fix the problems which have resulted in multiple losses over the past decade.

Russia is hardly led by a band of boy scouts, but there are far more serious threats to our democracy. This includes Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, Republican voter suppression, Democratic McCarthyism and rigging of the nomination system to exclude more liberal and progressive viewpoints, and even, as I discussed yesterday, Facebook censorship of alternative opinions. In the scheme of things, Russia is minor threat which has been greatly exaggerated, distracting from our more serious problems.

Trump’s First Year Was Terrible, But Things Could Have Been Worse

It is fitting that Donald Trump, who claimed that “I alone can fix it,” couldn’t make it through his entire first year without breaking the government. Donald Trump has been among the worst presidents ever. However, while the past year under Trump might have been the worst of times, it was not the worst of all possible times. Trump’s first year has been terrible, but we must also be appreciative all those spared from dying in Hillary’s wars over the past year.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have been terrible on many issues, including health care, race, and immigration. As I had previously predicted, Trump has been totally incoherent on foreign policy. He has escalated a potential nuclear crisis in North Korea, but we also must not forget that Hillary Clinton was largely responsible for the situation and peace would have probably have been impossible if she was in the White House. Clinton’s push to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi based upon lies after he surrendered his nuclear weapons, along with her joining with her neocon allies in lying us into the  Iraq war, have been cited by both Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin as reasons for their nuclear buildup and other foreign policy actions.

Donald Trump’s relations with Russia have been mixed, and evidence has grown of both a history of financial crimes and an attempt at a cover-up over the past year. At least Trump’s financial crimes are under investigation, while Democrats regularly make excuses for the influence peddling of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The irony is that, after the risk of deterioration of relations with Russia and a return to a Cold War atmosphere was feared by many should Clinton become president, Clinton has managed to create hysteria over Russia without even being elected. While Trump is probably guilty of money laundering and a obstruction of justice, the evidence to date has contradicted conspiracy theories which appear to have been fabricated Clinton and the DNC to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia. With Clinton continuing to promote belligerence towards Russia even out of office, using conspiracy theories to get Democrats to embrace her neoconservative interventionism, it is of considerable concern as to how much greater harm Clinton could be doing in the White House.

Donald Trump has been terrible for civil liberties as president, including his attacks on the press. It must not be forgotten that even before the election Clinton had far right wing views on civil liberties which were not all that different from Trump’s.  Donald Trump has ignored the norms of a democratic society, but since the election Clinton has also continued her attack on civil liberties and has attacked the fundamental principles of democracy, including the legitimacy of election results. Both Clinton and Trump have cited fake news, which often means information critical of them, as justification to call for censorship.

While many Republicans have little respect for civil liberties, in the past year we have seen Democrats engage in McCarthyism as part of their anti-Russia hysteria.  The Democratic Party as a whole turned out to be worthless when faced with a vote to renew and expand warrantless surveillance as many joined with Republicans. If many Democrats were unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump on a fundamental civil liberties issue, I would expect even fewer to resist calls for increased powers by an authoritarian like Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but at least his faults are widely recognized, and his falsehoods are regularly exposed. Donald Trump might have authoritarian tendencies, but if so he is a very weak authoritarian. He has brought about serious damage to the entire Republican and conservative brands, likely doing far less damage than Hillary Clinton would have been capable of.

Michael Wolff Again Says It Was Money Laundering, Not Collusion Regarding 2016 Election

Michael Wolff has repeated on CNBC what he has written in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House regarding Russia–it is all about money laundering, not a conspiracy to change the 2016 election result. From CNBC:

People around President Donald Trump think that if the Russia investigation touches the president’s finances, it could take him down, the author of an explosive tell-all book told CNBC on Tuesday.

Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” said administration officials and Trump confidantes he spoke to do not think the president colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election. However, they think if special counsel Robert Mueller looks into Trump’s finances, it could be perilous for the president, Wolff claimed.

“People don’t think in the White House — don’t think that he colluded with Russia. … They do think that if the investigation goes near his finances, he’s sunk. Everybody, again, to a man,” Wolff said in a “Squawk Box” interview.

The president has repeatedly denied any cooperation with Moscow as an investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election continues. Last year, Trump told The New York Times that a Mueller probe of his finances as part of the investigation would cross a red line.

I previously posted excerpts from Fire and Fury here and here in which Wolff presented arguments that Trump was engaging in money laundering in Russia but there is no evidence of colluding with Russia regarding the 2016 election.

To repeat what I also wrote yesterday: At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

Fire And Fury Contradicts Claims From Democrats Of A Trump/Putin Conspiracy To Alter The 2016 Election

Last week I noted how pre-publication excerpts from Michael Wolff”s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, cast further doubt on claims from Hillary Clinton and many Democrats that a conspiracy between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump caused Donald Trump to beat Clinton. Excerpts showed that Wolff believes (as I have also argued, and as the evidence to date also indicates) that the relationships between Trump and Russia involved money laundering, not anything concerning the election.

I also noted excerpts from Fire and Fury which showed that Vladimir Putin had no interest in Trump, and that Trump did not want to win–contradicting the Democratic conspiracy theories that the two were working together to get Trump elected.

Now that the book is out, additional portions could also be reviewed, which similarly cast doubt on the Democrats’ conspiracy theories. Wolff noted how the Democrats were using Congressional investigations to push their argument and had this comment:

The congressional Democrats had everything to gain by insisting, Benghazi-like, that where there was smoke (even if they were desperately working the bellows) there was fire, and by using investigations as a forum to promote their minority opinion (and for members to promote themselves).

Wolff also talked about the assessment from the intelligence community regarding Russian involvement. The claims of seventeen agencies agreeing have already been retracted, and the remaining intelligence report suggesting Russian involvement provided no evidence. (Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, as also debunked these arguments recently). In the following passage, Wolff both debunked the argument based upon citing the intelligence agencies, and again noted that what Trump has to fear is not collusion regarding the election, but the other crimes he is likely guilty of:

Still, this could yet be seen as highly wishful thinking by Trump opponents. “The underlying premise of the case is that spies tell the truth,” said the veteran intelligence community journalist Edward Jay Epstein. “Who knew?” And, indeed, the worry in the White House was not about collusion—which seemed implausible if not farcical—but what, if the unraveling began, would likely lead to the messy Trump (and Kushner) business dealings. On this subject every member of the senior staff shrugged helplessly, covering eyes, ears, and mouth. This was the peculiar and haunting consensus—not that Trump was guilty of all that he was accused of, but that he was guilty of so much else. It was all too possible that the hardly plausible would lead to the totally credible.

At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

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Washington Post Columnist Debunks Claims Of Russia Affecting Election Result Despite Many Other Misleading Articles At The Post On Russia

The Washington Post has been spreading a lot of false stories which increase hysteria about Russia, similar to stories about fictitious WMD in Iraq prior to the Iraq war. However, despite the general fallacious editorial view of the newspaper, one columnist actually got matters right recently, debunking claims that Russian ads on social media affected the election results.

Glenn Greenwald once again criticized the coverage in The Washington Post yesterday in an article entitled  WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived:

In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the other was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop.

But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper’s executive editor, Marty Baron, recently boasted about how profitable the paper has become).

After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.

Baron himself, editorial leader of the Post, is a perfect case study in this irresponsible tactic. It was Baron who went to Twitter on the evening of November 24 to announce the Post’s exposé of the enormous reach of Russia’s fake news operation, based on what he heralded as the findings of “independent researchers.” Baron’s tweet went all over the place; to date, it has been re-tweeted more than 3,000 times, including by many journalists with their own large followings:

But after that story faced a barrage of intense criticism — from Adrian Chen in the New Yorker (“propaganda about Russia propaganda”), Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone (“shameful, disgusting”), my own article, and many others — including legal threats from the sites smeared as Russian propaganda outlets by the Post’s “independent researchers” — the Post finally added its lengthy editor’s note distancing itself from the anonymous group that provided the key claims of its story (“The Post … does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings” and “since publication of the Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list”)…

Greenwald proceeded to provide many more examples of poor media coverage. Of course misleading coverage is not limited to The Washington Post as I described here. There have been multiple examples of various news sources posting material on Russia which was later retracted as false. Then there is the hysterical coverage at MSNBC.

Despite the overall misleading coverage, there is a recent exception at The Washington Post. Philip Bump wrote, There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything. This overlaps with the material  I previously posted here, but includes some additional facts worth reading. As I previously noted, the information released after the Congressional investigations showed that material from Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook.

Bump discussed the false narrative that Russia was responsible for Clinton’s loss, and wrote:

All of that, though, requires setting aside what we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a series of examples of the sorts of ads purchased by the Russians in November. Many, as The Washington Post reported, focused on highlighting divisive cultural issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration.

Of the 30 ads shared by the Democrats, six, viewed 1.2 million times in total, ran in 2015. Only seven ran in the last month of the campaign, totaling about 340,000 views. The ads targeted none of the four closest states in the election — New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — specifically; most were national ad buys. States that were targeted specifically included Texas and New York, neither of which was considered a swing state.

A little-noticed statement from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, detailed how unsophisticated the Russian ad targeting actually was in the context of the election. Among the points he made:

  • Maryland was targeted by nearly five times as many ads as was Wisconsin (262 to 55).
  • Thirty-five of the 55 ads targeting Wisconsin ran during the primary.
  • More ads targeted DC than Pennsylvania.
  • A total of $1,979 was spent in Wisconsin — $1,925 of it in the primary.
  • The spending in Michigan and Pennsylvania were $823 and $300, respectively.
  • More of the geographically targeted ads ran in 2015 than in 2016.

Facebook’s own public numbers hint at how the ads were weighted relative to the campaign. Ten million people saw ads run by the Russian agents — but 5.6 million of those views were after the election.

Bump also debunked the claims regarding Twitter:

Just before Election Day in 2016, Twitter announced 1 billion tweets had been sent from August 2015 through that point. Even assuming all 202,000 of those tweets from the Russian accounts were in that period, it means they constituted 0.02 percent of the election-related tweets. On Election Day itself, there were another 75 million election-related tweets. If all of the Russian-linked tweets had been dropped on Election Day — closer to the point at which they would have directly helped suppress or boost turnout — they would still only have constituted 0.27 percent of the tweets that day. But they weren’t.

Perhaps, one might argue, there is classified information about Russia’s meddling that suggests a more dramatic problem. Perhaps. On Thursday morning, though, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) of the House intelligence committee told CNN he hadn’t seen much evidence of any criminal collusion the American people weren’t already aware of. (There’s also the argument that, in an election as close as that of 2016, even small efforts by Russian actors might have had an outsized effect. This is true, but it is also true of hundreds of other small things that happened (and didn’t) in the closing days of the presidential race.)

As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.

In other words, while there is evidence of Donald Trump acting to cover-up crimes such as money laundering, the evidence disputes Clinton’s claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election results.

Vox Provides Further Evidence That The Actual Trump/Russia Scandal Is About Money Laundering

Since the 2016 election we have seen three different interpretations of Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. There has been the total denial from pro-Trump partisans, which has been heavily contradicted by the investigations in progress. There is the twisting of the facts by pro-Clinton partisans to see try to frame everything as a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency she deserved. The facts have also frequently contradicted this view. Then there is the evidence-based view which non-partisans such as myself have promoted that the real issue concerns financial crimes such as money laundering by family and associates of Donald Trump, along with a cover-up of their activities.

As I discussed yesterday, information in the portions of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House which were released yesterday are consistent with this view. Vox, which generally follows the Democratic Party line, has also provided evidence that the real crime here is money laundering. Vox has a post based upon information from a Russia expert which downplays the role of Vladimir Putin and politics and stresses the role of money laundering entitled, “Set aside Putin and follow the money”: a Russia expert’s theory of the Trump scandal. From the introduction:

“To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.”

That’s what Seva Gunitsky, a politics professor at the University of Toronto and the author of Aftershocks, told me in a September interview. I reached out to Gunitsky after he posted a short but incisive thread on Twitter about the financial roots of the Trump-Russia collusion case.

Gunitsky, who was raised in Russia, has followed the evolving relationship between Donald Trump and Russia for more than a decade. He says the prevailing narrative about Putin interfering in the American election in order to undermine democracy is wildly overstated.

Putin is happy to sow confusion and distrust in America’s system, of course, but to assume that’s the basis of this operation is to overlook a much simpler motive: money.

The financial connections between Trump and various Russian banks and oligarchs (business elites with ties to the Kremlin) stretch back decades, which is likely a big reason why Trump won’t release his tax returns. Trump’s election, Gunitsky contends, presented Russian oligarchs with an opportunity to recoup losses and leverage Trump’s debts for political gain.

The interview began after this introduction. Here are some excerpts:

Sean Illing

This collusion story gets more convoluted by the day. But you seem to think it’s pretty straightforward.

Seva Gunitsky

I think it’s justifiable for you to say that it seems impossibly convoluted, but I would say it’s still much simpler than this idea that there’s a global conspiracy designed to bring down democracy. I’m not saying the political dimension is unimportant — surely it is. But if we’re talking about the roots of the collusion, we have to look at where Trump’s links with Russia begin. And it begins with money. [These roots] don’t start with the election; they start with money, and namely Russian oligarch money.

Sean Illing

So walk me through the trail. Where does the money lead?

Seva Gunitsky

Again, this doesn’t start with the election; it starts with Russian oligarch money pouring into Trump’s real estate and casino businesses. Many of them Trump has been working with for years, well before he developed any serious political ambitions. And we’re not talking about small change here; we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Possibly even enough to keep Trump out of another bankruptcy.

Sean Illing

And we know this how, exactly?

Seva Gunitsky

We know because they’ve told us. We can talk about specific cases in a minute, but Donald Trump Jr. has already admitted the importance of Russian money to their business ventures. He said publicly in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Sean Illing

And this is why you think Western media has overplayed the centrality of Putin in all of this? We have this notion of Putin as a kind of master strategist playing 10-dimensional chess with Trump. I think it’s obvious that once Putin saw an opportunity he took it, but these financial ties go back a long way, long before the 2016 election.

Seva Gunitsky

I think that’s right. Putin is often put up as this sort of central antagonist, but the Russian government is not this shadowy monolith. It’s sometimes portrayed this way in the West, but in reality the Russian government is messy and disorganized and ad hoc.

It’s possible that Putin was not even fully aware of efforts to court Trump up until last year, or a couple years ago. Putin, we often forget, has supporters to keep happy as well, people who desperately want to open up those channels of Russian finance…

Sean Illing

As hard as it is to make sense of all this, it does help to explain Trump’s unusual consistency on all things Russia. This is a guy without a fixed ideological core, but his bizarre pro-Russia posture is arguably the only issue on which he’s been consistent.

Seva Gunitsky

I’d only slightly disagree here and say the thing about which he’s been most consistent is the desire to make money. And if we take that, then his consistency on Russia becomes much more sensible.

I think you’re absolutely right that he has no strong ideological commitments. We’ve seen that painfully over and over during the last few months. But if his financial interests are tied up with Russian oligarchs, who in turn are tied up with the Kremlin and thus have parallel interests, then Trump’s “consistency” becomes much more explainable.

And if we emphasize this financial angle a bit more, it also makes a lot of sense that he would not want to release his tax returns. Because that would expose just how deeply embedded he is with Russian money.

While not discussed here, this also presents an explanation for Donald Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation. It is also possible that this financial leverage gave Putin reason to want to see Trump elected, but there has yet to be demonstrated any evidence of collusion between Putin and Trump with regards to altering the election results, or that Russia’s action during the election, including alleged actions on social media, were of any major significance.

While this fact might not be pleasing to Clinton-partisans eager for an excuse for Clinton’s loss (or in some cases pundits who seek an explanation for why they were wrong in their predictions), Democrats should be satisfied if a case of money laundering and obstruction of justice can be built against Donald Trump–which appears very likely to be the case. Steve Bannon’s statement that “This is all about money laundering” in Wollf’s book is just the latest evidence of this–and likely one of many reasons that Donald Trump is trying to halt publication of the book.

New Book Provides Further Information On Donald Trump And Casts Further Doubt On Democratic Conspiracy Theories About 2016 Election

 

Information from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, provides further insight into Trump and cast further doubt on the conspiracy theories being spread by Democrats that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election due to a conspiracy involving Donald Trump and Russia. An excerpt appearing in New York Magazine shows, as many suspected while he was running, that Donald Trump neither thought he could win nor wanted to win the 2016 presidential election:

Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears—and not of joy.

It looks even worse for Hillary Clinton to have lost to a candidate who didn’t even want to win. Part of Clinton’s problem is that she wanted too much to be president, and for the wrong reasons, using her political career for personal financial gain, not even caring about how this looked–as Matt Taibbi discussed in this excerpt from his book on the election.

In theory, having a president who did not want to be president might sound like a good thing in contrast to the corruption of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but in this case Donald Trump was not the right answer. Like the Clintons, Trump’s motives were based upon personal greed. Unlike the Clintons, Trump lacked even rudimentary understanding of the position, and has showed no desire to learn. One consequence was yesterday’s tweet in which, rather than try to diffuse hostilities with North Korea as any rational political leader would, he bragged about the size of his nuclear button.

There is already considerable reason to doubt the conspiracy theory started by Hillary Clinton that collusion between Donald Trump and Russia were responsible for her loss. Such a conspiracy between Trump and Putin appears even less likely if Trump was not interested in being president. Wolff’s book also revealed that Putin had no interest in meeting Trump when he came to Russia, quoting Steve Bannon as saying that,”Putin couldn’t give a shit about him.” That hardly makes Trump and Putin sound like the co-conspirators which the Democrats make them out to be.

More significant information came from Steve Bannon’s interview on the Trump Tower meeting, in which Russians teased Donald, Jr with claims of information on Clinton, but actually had nothing to deliver. While not of any significance in terms of altering the election result, it does show the lack of principles of Donald, Jr, with Bannon calling this “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

I have noted that, while there is no evidence available that Donald Trump knew of the meeting, it is hard to believe he did not know about it. Bannon’s comments on the meeting further confirm this suspicion.

I have also been writing since the start of this scandal that the real crimes appear to involve financial crimes such as money laundering, followed by Trump’s cover-up of contacts with Russia, as opposed to anything related to altering the election result. Bannon further confirmed that this scandal is really about money laundering:

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

This view that the investigation will focus on money laundering is consistent with the first indictment from Robert Mueller.

There was another interesting admission from Bannon:

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

So we see that Steve Bannon realizes that Breitbart is not a “legitimate publication.”

Other revelations from the book include that Ivanka wanted to ultimately become the first woman president instead of Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump responded to the quotes from Steve Bannon by saying that  Bannon has “lost his mind.”

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Russia Tries To Play Hillary Clinton’s Game, Complaining Of Foreign Interference In Their Election

Russia is taking a lesson from Hillary Clinton in whining and irrational complaints, now complaining of foreign intervention.

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination in a system which was essentially as rigged as picking nominees in the proverbial smoke-filled room–or almost as rigged as a typical Russian election. When she thought that she was going to win, Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “threatens democracy” by not accepting the election results. When she subsequently lost as a consequence of her own faults, Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of losing to place the blame on others, and later became even more aggressive in questioning the legitimacy of the election.

Clinton participated in a sham nomination battle in which the rules were rigged to deliver her the nomination and refused to accept the legitimacy of the general election after losing. Putin didn’t even bother with super delegates or debate restrictions–and he is not going to risk making losing a possibility. He simply prohibited opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running against him when he runs for reelection. Navalny was barred from running due to an embezzlement charge which the European Court of Human Rights determined in October to be”arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

As I noted back in a 2007 post, this is not the first time in which the Russian government has acted to prevent opposition forces from competing in elections.

The State Department protested:

…a State Department representative expressed concern over the Russian government’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.”

“These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded on Facebook by accusing the US of “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs.”

In our era of constant world-wide interaction on social media we will always see “interference” in foreign elections if any comments by one government is considered to be interference. What matters is that there is no reason that the United States State Department cannot comment on the undemocratic nature of the Russian election. This “interference” is no more likely to alter the results of the Russian election than Russian activity on social media affected the results of the US election.

Besides, Democrats in the United States have been helping Putin quite a bit. Russian opponents of Putin have complained that the false portrayal of Putin as such an powerful puppet master that he can alter foreign elections enhances his reputation and political strength.

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

As was the case in the run up to the Iraq war when a small number of us were disputing the claims used to justify war, there also continues to be articles disputing the Russiagate conspiracy theory that Donald Trump and Russia successfully colluded to alter the 2016 election result. This is most often spread by establishment Democrats who cannot face the fact that Hillary Clinton was such a terrible choice for the nomination that she could not beat someone as awful as Donald Trump. While Robert Mueller’s investigation is uncovering evidence of financial crimes, and obstruction of justice, no evidence has been presented to support the claims of Russia altering the election results which has not been quickly retracted or debunked. Yesterday I quoted from an article by Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University. Another article on this subject by Aaron Maté in The Nation is less extensive but has the benefit of being more likely to be read by Democrats who are being duped this conspiracy theory.

There have been so many debunked claims regarding Russiagate that no single article can deal with them all. Maté concentrated on the numerous reports which have been circulated by the mainstream media, only to be quickly shown to be false–a subject I previously discussed here. He also touched on the false claims of Russian hackers hacking the voting systems of 21 states and the claim that there was a consensus from all the intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee. This later claim continues to be repeated by many Clinton apologists despite having been retracted by The New York Times last June. It is also worth noting that, while no evidence has been presented so far showing that Russia hacked the DNC, if future evidence should happen to show this, it would be a negative regarding Russia but would still not support Clinton’s argument that Russia is responsible for her loss. The hacked email which was released by Wikileaks provided factual information regarding unethical behavior by Clinton and the DNC, and Clinton would still be responsible for any votes lost because of this.

There are at least five reasons why the Russiagate conspiracy theory is so dangerous. It allows the Democratic establishment to deny responsibility for their mistakes, making reform less likely. It promotes McCarthyism and promotion of restrictions on freedom of expression in the United States. It unnecessarily increases conflict with a nuclear power (playing into the hands of Clinton’s neocon allies who desire to attempt regime change in Russia). It strengthens Putin by showing him to be a far greater master strategist than he is, to the frustration of anti-Putin forces in Russia. Maté began his article with a fifth reason. Concentrating on such false charges distracts from forming a true resistance to the many terrible things Donald Trump has been doing.

After this introduction, Maté more directly addressed the unsupported claims regarding the 2016 election:

The basis for the “virtually uncontested truths” of the year’s “biggest story” remains the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s January 2017 report, which accused Russia of hacking Democratic e-mails and using social media to influence the 2016 election. Yet the report openly acknowledges that its conclusions are “not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.” Nearly one year later, we have yet to see a shred of proof.

What we have in its stead is a stream of Russiagate stories that make bombastic entrances only to quietly slink away. The pattern persists thanks to a media and political culture that embraces credulity and shuns accountability.

Virtually every major outlet reported claims in September that Russian-government-backed hackers targeted the voting systems of 21 states. But last month Christopher Krebs, a senior cyber-security official at the Department of Homeland Security, quietly informed Congress that no such hacking had occurred. “The majority of the activity was simple scanning,” Krebs told a House panel. “Scanning is a regular activity across the Web. I would not characterize that as an attack.… If that context was not provided, I apologize.” He added: “When we talk about that scanning, it was not also necessarily an election system that was scanned.”

Krebs’s contrition did not ring out among the media that had fervently reported the scanning as a hacking attack, and continue to do so as part of Russiagate’s “virtually uncontested truths.” The falsity of the “21 states” claim went largely unreported, outside C-SPAN and the marginal Russian website that took notice.

Meanwhile, accountability has been resisted even when the mistakes are seismically embarrassing. The most recent case was CNN’s erroneous report that the Trump campaign was offered access to Wikileaks’ trove of stolen Democratic Party e-mails before their public release. In a story line worthy of Better Call Saul, it turned out that CNN got the date wrong—someone had in fact e-mailed the Trump campaign a link to the Wikileaks e-mails, only after they were already all over the Internet. As Glenn Greenwald noted, the mistake was egregious not just for the story’s ultimate uselessness, but also for the fact CNN and other outlets all reported they had confirmed it with multiple sources. Yet none of the networks have explained how their “multiple sources” all “confirmed” the same incorrect date.

Maté discussed CNN’s error in greater detail. He next discussed the claims that Russia affected the Brexit vote. As was the case with Russia’s actions on Facebook and Twitter in the United States, he showed that the claims regarding Brexit were highly exaggerated, and then discussed Russia Today and the investigation of Jill Stein:

Just weeks ago, The New York Times warned that reports of Russian-linked social-media activity around the Brexit vote “could raise questions about the legitimacy of the referendum” itself. “I have a very simple message for Russia,” declared British Prime Minister Theresa May on November 13. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

We now have a full accounting of what Russia was doing: According to Twitter, the Kremlin-backed network Russia Today spent just over $1,000 to promote its Brexit coverage to UK-based viewers. Facebook reported a grand total of 97 cents spent on three ads, “all centered on immigration and aimed at American users,” reaching no more than 200 of them over four days. Whatever Russia was doing, May’s confidence that they would not succeed was doubtless well-founded.

The unquestioning faith in evidence-free or overblown claims coincides with the targeting of those who dare challenge them. The forced registration of RT America as a “foreign agent” was followed by the revoking of the outlet’s congressional press pass, with the usual silence from press-freedom groups and media outlets, even progressive ones. Without explanation, The Huffington Post removed an article by veteran reporter Joe Lauria that methodically challenged Russiagate’s precepts. On Tuesday, Green Party candidate Jill Stein confirmed that she is complying with a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation looking into, in the words of panel chair Senator Richard Burr, “collusion with the Russians.”

Despite multiple interviews explaining the nature of a 2015 trip to Moscow, Stein remains the target of a smear campaign, cheered on by liberal groups, painting her as a Kremlin stooge. “Here’s hoping this lying sack of piety-spewing shit goes to jail with the rest of the bastards Mueller is investigating,” commented liberal sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. Zac Petkanas, a Democratic Party senior adviser and Clinton campaign staffer, was so enthused by the Senate probe that he repeated the phrase “Jill Stein is a Russian agent” to his Twitter followers eight times.

Stein calls the investigation part of a “resurgence of McCarthyism, to suppress opposition voices, to suppress independent politics.” But for its proponents to recognize that would mean acknowledging that it derives from the same kind of behavior that is recognized in Trump. “Any genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland,” the New York Times editors write of Trump’s right-wing defenders. The tragedy of Russiagate is that its enthusiasts have constructed a “self-sustaining fantasyland” of their own. A fantasyland is no place from which to confront Trump’s reality.

Historian Analyzes The Many Problems With The Russiagate Narrative And Democratic Support For Interventionism

Many partisan Democrats have believed Clinton’s claims that she lost as a consequence of Russian interference in the election, as opposed to her own mistakes, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. Many of those viewing the matter more seriously have expressed skepticism, seeing the current hysteria as reminiscent of claims of WMD in Iraq. Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has an essay on this at the London Review of Books. He looked at subjects including the lack of evidence that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, along with how this narrative distracts from the evidence of corruption in the DNC which was revealed in their email. He noted, as I also provided examples of recently, that many of the claims in the media have been quickly shown to be incorrect. He also discussed how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton. While I would recommend reading his full article, here are some excerpts:

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington…

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical…

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment…

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign…

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.