The Mounds of Evidence Russiagate Skeptics Have to Ignore

From the moment we began hearing stories about how Russia interfered in the 2016 election, there have been a few skeptics of the whole thing that aren’t aligned with Trump and right wing media outlets. One of them is Glenn Greenwald, who has focused almost all of his attention on whether or not it was Russia who hacked DNC and John Podesta emails. In raising those questions, he got an assist from Patrick Lawrence at The Nation. Their main contention is that we can’t trust U.S. intelligence agencies to tell us the truth, which is why Greenwald is such a frequent guest on Fox News these days. His skepticism helps reinforce the war on the so-called “deep state” as a way to defend Trump.

Matt Taibbi has pretty much been in the same mold from the beginning. He doesn’t trust our intelligence services, and as late as April 2017 referred to the whole affair as “conspiratorial mass hysteria.” What is most interesting about Taibbi’s latest is that he puts skeptics like himself in the role of victim, as his title suggests: “#Russiagate Skeptics Take a Beating: We don’t know for sure where the Mueller probe is going, but don’t dare say that out loud.” Of course, he goes on to express his skepticism “out loud” in a magazine with the kind of status enjoyed by Rolling Stone.

Taibbi spends most of his time defending skeptics like Facebook ad executive Rob Goldman and Politico journalist Blake Hounsell, neither of whom lacks a significant platform for expressing their views. For example, when Goldman claimed that the goal of Russian interference was to sow discord rather than disparage Clinton and support Trump, he was called out for that by Sheera Frankel in the New York Times. Here is Taibbi’s response:

Frankel might equally have noted that at least some of the propaganda the Russians disbursed was anti-Trump, including the hyping of anti-Trump rallies in Charlotte and New York after the election. But it’s easy to see how she missed that. After all, Mueller stuck those narrative-upsetting facts in item 57 of his indictment, the last lines in his “political advertisements” section.

As many have emphasized, the anti-Trump activities came after the election. By zeroing in on those, Taibbi has to completely ignore huge sections of the indictment, like this:

43. By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.

On or about February 10, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators internally circulated an outline of themes for future content to be posted to ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts. Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on “politics in the USA” and to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them).”

On or about September 14, 2016, in an internal review of an ORGANIZATION- created and controlled Facebook group called “Secured Borders,” the account specialist was criticized for having a “low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton” and was told “it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton” in future posts.

Finally, at the end, Taibbi speaks for himself.

The reason reporters should be scared to death of this story is that #Russiagate is an incredibly complicated affair involving two sets of fierce combatants who both have compelling political reasons to conflate the key question of whether or not there was collusion.

Trump in his reflexively narcissistic way seems determined to downplay the Russian “problem” so long as he can’t be tied to it, while the Democrats seem at times to be bootstrapping a counterintelligence probe into a political investigation of Trump they may legitimately believe will bear fruit.

It’s a giant land mine of a story that could go either way.

That kind of both siderism would put the rest of the mainstream media to shame.

I’ll be the first one to say that there is a lot about the Mueller investigation that we don’t know. The possibility that there will eventually be some kind of smoking gun that irrefutably ties Donald Trump himself to a conspiracy with Vladimir Putin is more the stuff of Hollywood spy stories than the way the world often works. If that were the bar that needed to be met, I’d probably count myself among the skeptics as well.

But as Rep. Adam Schiff said recently, there is already ample evidence of collusion in the public domain. These are the kinds of things Russiagate skeptics are required to ignore:

  • George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about talking in April 2016 to a professor with close ties to the Kremlin who told Papadopoulos that Moscow had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
  • Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with a Russian attorney at Trump Tower in June 2016 after being promised “dirt” on Clinton.
  • Then-candidate Trump publicly asked the Russians in July 2016 to hack Clinton and find her “30,000 emails that are missing” from the personal email server she used while secretary of State. WikiLeaks began posting emails from the Clinton campaign in October, just weeks before the November election.
  • Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn held secret conversations with Russian officials in December 2016 during the presidential transition period, promising to undermine sanctions imposed against Russia by the Obama administration for meddling in the U.S. election.

One thing that is missing from the list that strikes me as equally important is the fact that Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Erik Prince all attempted to set up back-channel communications between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Common to all of the efforts was that they were an attempt to bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy. Prince even traveled to a clandestine meeting in the Seychelles islands as late as January 2017 in order to accomplish that goal.

This is not, as Taibbi claims, a story that could go either way. The evidence is all pointing in the same direction. To ignore all of that doesn’t make one a skeptic, it makes you one of those villagers claiming that the king is fully clothed when opening your eyes to reality would prove you wrong.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.