Why Taibbi and Greenwald Shouldn’t Feel Vindicated

It is not surprising that Donald Trump and his enablers are doing a happy dance in response to Attorney General Barr’s letter summarizing the findings of the Mueller report. Barr has given the president what some have called “the best day of his presidency,” which is exactly what he was hired to do.

But there are at least two other people who’ve been busy patting themselves on the back over the last couple of days: Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald. Taibbi has written two articles taking a victory lap, while Greenwald has been busy with television appearances, including one with his buddy Tucker Carlson.

The reason these two are feeling so vindicated is because they’ve been skeptics of almost everything related to the Trump-Russia story from the beginning. Donald Trump isn’t the only person in the country who still hasn’t admitted that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. As late as February 2018, after Mueller released his indictments against dozens of Russians for their social media campaigns, Greenwald was still in denial. Here’s what Taibbi wrote about that this week:

I didn’t really address the case that Russia hacked the DNC, content to stipulate it for now. I was told early on that this piece of the story seemed “solid,” but even that assertion has remained un-bolstered since then, still based on an “assessment” by those same intelligence services that always had issues…The government didn’t even examine the DNC’s server, the kind of detail that used to make reporters nervous.

There are those who would suggest that Taibbi buying Trump’s line about the government not examining the DNC’s server suggests that he is unqualified to comment on this issue at all. But the main message from both he and Greenwald is that we can’t trust what U.S. intelligence services tell us, so we must see all of the evidence related to Trump and Russia with our own eyes.

Of course, the fact that something is awry has been obvious to anyone who has been watching Trump in action over these last three years. But what is most astounding to me is that both of these guys have gone all-in on feeling vindicated about their skepticism based on a four-page letter from the attorney general. Neither of them is holding back judgement until we get the chance to see the results of Mueller’s investigation with our own eyes. Where did all that skepticism go? I am reminded of how Greenwald described himself back in 2013.

“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”

Here’s how Taibbi expressed the same sentiment:

Being on any team is a bad look for the press, but the press being on team FBI/CIA is an atrocity, Trump or no Trump. Why bother having a press corps at all if you’re going to go that route?

And yet, all of the sudden Greenwald and Taibbi believe that what Attorney General Barr has written about the Mueller report represents the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. One can only assume that being on team DOJ is just fine.

It is human nature to be more attuned to information that reinforces your view of the world. So it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Greenwald and Taibbi have jumped on Barr’s bandwagon. But they are the ones who have been holding themselves above the rest of us as journalists who question those in power and demand evidence. Here is just one example of how all of that went down the tubes from Greenwald’s appearance on Democracy Now.

…the central question that everybody was obsessed with for three years was: Did Donald Trump, his family members and his aides conspire and collaborate and collude with the Russians to interfere in the election?…[Mueller] said that after 20 months of investigation, with a huge team of FBI agents and prosecutors, heralded as being the most aggressive and skilled in the world, we found no evidence that this happened. That’s what Robert Mueller said. The whole thing was a scam and a fraud from the beginning.

Greenwald claims to know what Mueller found during his investigation. But the truth is, all he knows is what Barr wrote about it, which included one quote from Mueller related to this point: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Greenwald is a lawyer, so he should know that the specific words another lawyer uses in a situation like this matter a lot. Rather than saying they “found no evidence” for collusion or coordination, Mueller wrote that he “did not establish” that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russians. In other words, they might have found evidence, but not enough to prove it in a court of law. That is precisely why we need to see Mueller’s entire report in order to know what kind of evidence he did or did not find.

One of the most telling aspects of the approach both Greenwald and Taibbi have taken to this whole investigation is to suggest that it has inflamed tensions between the United States and Russia. Here’s what Greenwald said about that during his appearance on Democracy Now.

Even though obviously the Iraq War was much more destructive because it led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the errors and lies and falsehoods and recklessness and speculation that we’ve been subjected to, over and over and over, that Robert Mueller just definitively debunked, is far more humiliating journalistically, far more unjustifiable journalistically. And who knows where it will lead to? It’s ratcheted up tensions between the two most dangerous nuclear-armed powers in the world, Russia and the United States, that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says has brought us to two minutes before midnight on their Doomsday Clock. So it’s also been extremely dangerous in ways that we don’t yet know.

The contention is that it is the talk about Trump and Russia that “ratcheted up tensions” rather than the fact that Vladimir Putin attempted to tip the scales of the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump. Beyond that, Greenwald completely ignores how all of this is extremely dangerous.

In 2015, most American politicians were concerned that Russia had been busy interfering in elections and boosting far-right white nationalist parties on two continents, downing passenger jets, throwing journalists out of windows, poisoning and assassinating people in their homes on foreign soil, and killing others with radiation and military grade nerve agents.

I agree with Greenwald and Taibbi that accusing them of being Russian agents smacks of McCarthyism. So I reject that notion wholeheartedly. But in their quest to highlight the failings of U.S. policy, they too often fail to acknowledge the shortcomings of any country that presents itself as an adversary. That is especially true of Russia. It blinds them not only to the possibility that the current president might be compromised, but to the fact that, as Franklin Foer wrote, “Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America.” That is a failing for anyone who claims to be a liberal.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.