Billy Graham, Anti-Semite and Homophobe

Billy Graham, one of the founders of the religious right, died this week. Following are a few views on Graham from people who are not fans of the religious right.

Friendly Atheist writes that Billy Graham’s Body Shouldn’t “Lie in Honor” in the Capitol Rotunda

Evangelist Billy Graham, who died this week at age 99, was known for being an informal advisor to presidents of both political parties as well as one of the most admired people in America for decades.

That’s the white-washed version of his legacy.

He also helped inspire the modern Religious Right, left behind a son who’s best known for making life worse for LGBTQ people and women and minorities, disparaged Jews over their “stranglehold” on the media, and was hardly a champion of civil rights in the 1960s even when his support could’ve helped African Americans.

That’s the full legacy. You can’t talk about Graham without noting those glaring flaws in his life.

And that’s why it’s inappropriate for Republican leaders to honor him by bringing his body to the United States Capitol Rotunda next week so that people can pay their last respects.

The post later cites a letter which the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell protesting the honor. From that letter:

Graham’s career was devoted to revivals, Christian conversions, hellfire preaching and the insertion of his brand of religion into what is supposed to be a secular government governed by a godless Constitution barring establishment of religion or governmental preference for religion, FFRF points out. One of Graham’s dubious accomplishments was to successfully lobby Congress to pass a law declaring an annual National Day of Prayer. This law enacted at Graham’s behest, which FFRF has previously challenged, has entangled religion and government, spawned countless inappropriate prayer breakfasts, prayerful governmental events and prayer resolutions at all levels of government. In doing so, it has sent for generations a message that evangelical Christians are “insiders” and non-Christians and the nonreligious are “outsiders.”

FFRF also highlights how irresponsible it is for the U.S. Congress to venerate and honor a noted anti-Semite. The secret taping system that recorded President Nixon’s conversations and led to his Watergate downfall captured Graham’s anti-Semitic musings with Nixon. “A lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel,” Graham told Nixon. “But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.”

Graham was on the wrong side of the leading issues of his time. The day after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from the Birmingham Jail — a letter addressed to white religious leaders like Graham who were doing little else other than “mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” — Graham mouthed a few more, arguing that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” Graham seemingly never met a U.S. war of aggression he didn’t favor or encourage the occupants of the Oval Office to wage. As columnist and former priest James Carroll observes: “Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”

Graham vociferously opposed gay rights and marriage equality, saying “we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” The Billy Graham Evangelical Association once said that Vladimir Putin was “more right” on LGBTQ rights than then-President Obama. Graham, in his 90s, wrote a full-page ad appearing in several North Carolina newspapers “to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment” in May 2012, which passed, banning gay marriage until later nullified. He belonged to a denomination that refused to ordain women. The “Billy Graham” rule directing a man to not be alone with a woman other than his wife continues to influence evangelicals, including Vice President Mike Pence, isolating career women in the process.

Religion Dispatches protested calling Billy Graham America’s Pastor:

Let’s try this simple test. Would a good pastor suck up to presidents and other powerful people, granting them general absolution despite their known crimes (and yes, here I am thinking primarily of Napalmer-in-Chief Lyndon Johnson and of Tricky Dick Nixon, the president with whom Graham had the closest relationship)?

For that matter, would a good pastor reinforce a parishioner’s Jew-hatred, as Graham clearly did vis-a-vis Nixon (although he later claimed that he forgot saying these appalling things)?

Pardons Might Put Trump Cronies At Increased Legal Risk

While the claims of Donald Trump working along with Vladimir Putin to alter the 2016 election results is looking increasingly unlikely after over a year of investigations, people close to Donald Trump are at risk of prosecution related to both financial crimes including money laundering and obstruction of justice.  This could include Donald Trump himself, and CNN reported earlier this week that Mueller is interested in Jared Kushner.

Republicans, who have been utilizing multiple strategies to attempt to undermine the investigations, are recommending that Trump use pardons to presumably eliminate the risk of individuals providing testimony as part of deals to protect themselves. As I noted last summer, Robert Mueller has already been working to eliminate this risk by working with state prosecutors as presidential pardons only apply to federal charges. Ryan Goodman at Just Security argues that accepting pardons would also increase the risk of conviction on state charges:

In a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915, Burdick v. United States, the Justices stated that individuals have a right to refuse a pardon because “acceptance” of one carries with it a “confession of guilt.” Over the years, many federal courts have relied on Burdick for this proposition, the most recent including the Arizona court in upholding President Trump’s pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio.

While I have objected to Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, Goodman also helps with this:

It’s here that Watergate has yet another lesson for our times. Ken Gormley, the author of “Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation,” explained in a lecture in 2014 for the Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation, that Ford’s personal emissary in negotiating the pardon with Richard Nixon shared with Ford and his closest advisers the “extremely important” case of Burdick due to its implications for Nixon’s acceptance of guilt. That emissary was Benton Becker, and he explained, “President Ford had made it very clear. He said ‘don’t just deliver this … I want you to sit down face-to-face with Richard Nixon and I want you to walk through Burdick, walk through the facts, walk through the history, and walk through the holding.’” When Becker flew to California to offer Nixon the pardon, he brought copies of the Burdick opinion with him. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee a few weeks later about Nixon’s taking the pardon, President Ford stated, “The acceptance of a pardon, according to the legal authorities—and we have checked them out very carefully—does indicate that by the acceptance, the person who has accepted it does, in effect, admit guilt.” He made clear this applied to Nixon.

While I still wish that Nixon had faced prosecution, I am happy to see that the pardon was considered an admission of guilt. The possibility of state prosecutions increase the chances that those close to Donald Trump will not get off as easily as Richard Nixon.

The New Republic Warns About Hysteria Over Russia And The Danger Of A New Cold War

To repeat what I said yesterday, with so much of the media feeding into the Russia hysteria, it is good to see that there have been exceptions. Yesterday I quoted the editor of Politico Magazine who gave excellent reasons to be skeptical over the unproven claims from many Democrats that the election results were altered due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. I also noted other examples such as at from The Nation and a historian writing at The London Review of Books. The New Republic has now posted a warning to Stop Inflating The Russian Threat.  Some excerpts from Jeet Heer’s article at The New Republic follow:

…Russia’s interference in the election, at least what’s known thus far, is hardly enough to justify a global struggle comparable to the Cold War or the war on terror. These earlier conflicts consumed trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. The details in the Mueller indictment are troubling, but not an existential threat worth losing a single life over. New Yorker reporter Adrien Chen, who has been following Russian troll accounts for years, tweeted that the election interference waged on social-media was “90 people with a shaky grasp of English and a rudimentary understanding of U.S. politics shitposting on Facebook.”

…“Russia is not working according to a master plan carefully laid-out laid out by President Vladimir Putin,” Henry Farrell, of George Washington University, argued last month in Foreign Policy. “Instead, a loose collective of Russians, with incredibly meager resources, have been working together in a disorganized way to probe American democracy for weaknesses. Instead of persuading people to vote for Donald Trump, and against Clinton, they have wanted to create chaos and paranoia—and they have succeeded in stirring confusion only because there were so many weaknesses for them to exploit in the first place.” Similar Russian attempts to sway elections in France and Germany were much less successful, Farrell notes, because they don’t suffer from he calls a “basic failure of democratic knowledge” in America.

This crisis, which long predates Russian interference, stems from a polarized polity where one party actively encourages its followers to distrust news from non-partisan outlets. It’s enhanced by low voter turnout, active voter suppression, and an electoral system that is constantly manipulated by gerrymandering. The result is a citizenry that does not agree on basic facts, and many of whom distrust the system.

If democratic fragility is the root problem, launching a new Cold War is not going to solve it. Rather, there has to be an active effort to strengthen potential targets, like voting systems (many of which are old and run on outdated technology that’s vulnerable to hackers). The U.S. also needs a comprehensive civics education initiative, for children and adults alike, to instruct Americans on the U.S. Constitution and teach them how to detect propaganda and discount motivated reasoning.

Framing the election meddling as strictly a matter of outside interference will only encourage the conspiracy-mongering that already makes it hard to form a democratic consensus. “By exaggerating the actual consequences of foreign influence operations, American elites are further undermining the confidence and shared knowledge that American democracy needs to function,” Farrell argued. “They are tacitly encouraging Americans on the liberal left to build their own private universe of facts, in which Russian influence has pervasive political consequences.”

Some Democrats think that launching a new Cold War will solve the problem of polarization by unifying the country against a foreign enemy and isolating Republicans who stand with Trump in appeasing Russia. “The Democrats should and must start using Russia as a way to break through the vicious cycle consuming the parties, Washington, and the whole country,” John Stoehr argued in Washington Monthly in January. “Russia is our enemy. This is a fact. It attacked our presidential election. It continues to attack us in what is emerging as a new Cold cyberwar. In tying the Republicans to an enemy, the Democrats have the potential to break the Republicans.”

The actual history of the Cold War belies this fantasy. While Cold War liberals like President Harry Truman did use anti-communism to promote national unity, this only laid the groundwork for Republican demagogues like Senator Joseph McCarthy. Eventually, in the 1960s, the Democrats were torn apart by internal divisions over the Vietnam War. A foreign enemy is no assurance of unity, and perfectly compatible with more polarization.

Trump is the most divisive American president in at least generation. Reversing the damage he’s done to American democracy, let alone fixing the systemic flaws that predate him, is an arduous task that will require many years of political organization and education. There’s no swift solution to this crisis, and whipping up hysteria about Russia will only make it worse.

There are many dangers from distortions by partisans on both sides regarding “Russiagate.” The risk of playing into the hands of hawks like Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies who see desire resuming a Cold War atmosphere with Russia, if not outright attempts at regime change, is probably the greatest danger. I have previously quoted Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, on 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.

Glenn Greenwald also wrote a column yesterday regarding the dangers of politicians from both parties falsely equating “Russiagate” to an act of war, with some making false comparisons ot Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attack. Greenwald wrote:

All of this underscores the serious dangers many have pointed to for more than a year about why all this unhinged rhetoric is so alarming. If you really believe that Russia — with some phishing links sent to Podesta and some fake Facebook ads and Twitter bots — committed an “act of war” of any kind, let alone one on par with Pearl Harbor and 9/11, then it’s inevitable that extreme retaliatory measures will be considered and likely triggered. How does one justify a mere imposition of sanctions in the face of an attack similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11? Doesn’t it stand to reason that something much more belligerent, enduring, and destructive would be necessary?

The advice in the article above for greater education of Americans is sensible, but such education should include lessons on how we were lied into military intervention including the Iraq war, the regime change in Libya orchestrated by Hillary Clinton based upon lies, and Vietnam. The lack of such knowledge by Americans increases the risk of us being lied into yet another war, this time with a nuclear power.

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

Since the “Russiagate” investigations began, there has been evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes by Donald Trump and his cronies. There has been evidence of attempts to cover this up. There has been evidence of Russians violating federal election laws and even identity theft in the latest indictments. The one thing there has been no evidence of, and some evidence contradicting, have been the claims from many Democrats that the 2016 election results were changed due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia.

There have been multiple false media stories, such as the one discussed here, suggesting that far more has gone on than there is evidence for. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has even criticized MSNBC for their coverage of Russia. There has also been evidence, such as with the Trump Tower meeting that Trump (or at least members of his family) were willing to collude with Russia, but no evidence of actual collusion occurring.

With so much of the media feeding into the Russia hysteria, it is good to see that there have been major exceptions. I’ve previously noted some here and here. Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury, has also been arguing against this conspiracy theory.  Blake Hounshell, editor in chief of Politico Magazine has posted another, entitled Confessions of a Russiagate Skeptic–Why I have my doubts about whether Trump colluded with Moscow. Here is an excerpt:

I keep coming back the slapdash nature of Trump’s 2016 operation, and the chaos and dysfunction that everyone who covered that campaign saw play out each day. Like the Trump White House, the Trump campaign was a viper’s nest of incompetence and intrigue, with aides leaking viciously against one another almost daily. So much damaging information poured out of Trump Tower that it’s hard to believe a conspiracy to collude with Moscow to win the election never went public. If there was such a conspiracy, it must have been a very closely guarded secret.

Then there’s the Trump factor to consider. Here’s a man who seems to share every thought that enters his head, almost as soon as he enters it. He loves nothing more than to brag about himself, and he’s proven remarkably indiscreet in the phone calls he makes with “friends” during his Executive Time—friends who promptly share the contents of those conversations with D.C. reporters. If Trump had cooked up a scheme to provide some favor to Putin in exchange for his election, wouldn’t he be tempted to boast about it to someone?

And there are aspects of the Russia scandal, too, that don’t quite add up for me. Take Flynn’s plea bargain. As Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted after the deal became public, prosecutors usually prefer to charge participants in a conspiracy with charges related to the underlying crime. But Flynn pleaded guilty only to lying to the FBI, which Bharara surmised suggests might mean Mueller didn’t have much on him. It certainly seems unlikely that any prosecutor would charge Flynn for violating the 219-year-old Logan Act, a constitutionally questionable law that has never been tested in court, for his chats with the Russian ambassador. It’s not even clear if the (stupid) idea of using secure Russian communications gear, as Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly considered doing, would have been a crime.

Then there is Papadopoulos, the hapless campaign volunteer who drunkenly blabbed to the Australian ambassador to London that the Russians were sitting on loads of hacked emails. He, likewise, confessed only to lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened. Papadopoulos has been cooperating with Mueller for months, but how much does he really have to offer? He seems like an attention-seeking wannabe—the kind who puts “Model U.N. participant” on his resume.

Speaking of attention-seeking wannabes, Carter Page was another volunteer campaign adviser who was enthusiastic about collaborating with Russia. His writings and comments suggest he has been a Putin apologist for years. But anyone who has seen Page’s TV interviews or read through his congressional testimony can tell that there’s something not quite right about him. He’s apparently broke, doesn’t have a lawyer, and has issued lengthy, bizarre statements comparing himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 2013, when a Russian agent tried to recruit Page, he described him as too much of an “idiot” to bother with. This is the mastermind of the Russia scandal?

As for Manafort and Gates, the charges against them are serious and detailed. They stand accused of failing to register as foreign agents for their overseas work, as well as various offenses related to money laundering. But Mueller has yet to charge them with any crimes related to their work on the Trump campaign. Gates is reportedly working out a cooperation deal with Mueller’s team—perhaps he has stories to tell. And we can’t rule out the idea that Mueller is prepared to file superseding charges against either or both of the two men. But so far, their alleged crimes seem unrelated to 2016.

As Hounshell noted, “Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened.” If Trump and Putin were colluding together, why would there have been the need to arrange such a meeting? Hounshell also noted the attempts by Flynn and Jared Kushner to open back channel communications with Russia after the election. If the Trump campaign and Russia were colluding, wouldn’t there have already been some method for them to communicate before the election?

Elsewhere in the article, in a different context, Hounshell noted when Trump quipped,  “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” While this indicates a rather flippant attitude towards colluding with Russia, this again raises the question of whether Trump would have had a better way to make a request of Putin if the two were already colluding together.

It is impossible to prove a negative, and we don’t know what information will come out in the future. However, over a year since some Democrats started claiming that it was a fact that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to collusion between Trump and Putin, with Clinton denying the legitimacy of the election, no evidence of this has yet to be provided. On the other hand, there is evidence that Hillary Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of the election to blame others such as Russia in an attempt to escape the blame for her loss. It was also revealed that Clinton and the DNC had funded the Steele Dossier, which was previously used as a reason for the investigation, and attempted to cover up their roles.

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?

(more…)

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.