The Justice Department has announced the indictment of three Russian companies and 13 Russian citizens on charges of engaging in a wide-ranging effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through the use of social media. They were charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Special counsel William Mueller’s office said that none of the defendants was in custody.
While it is the largest indictment in history of a foreign effort to interfere with U.S. elections, it is hardly a surprise. By this time, Democratic and Republican leaders, top administration’s intelligence figures and the president, who once questioned whether Russia was trying to meddle in the 2016 election, agree that the evidence of Russian government interference, is undeniable.
The indictments provided new details of a large and well-funded effort, based in St. Petersburg, Russia with the “strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system.” The Russian plot used social-media messages, invented fake personas and staged political rallies aimed at involving American citizens “unwittingly” in the effort.
None of the Russian individuals named in the indictments are in custody, and they are unlikely to face trial because they are all in Russia.
AMERICANS INVOLVED WERE DUPED
Speaking at the Justice Department, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said, “there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” referring specifically to the Russian social media operation. The indictment says that the Russian social media effort duped U.S. citizens, including members of the Trump campaign, into taking part in their plan, but that the Americans were unaware that they were cooperating with a Russian plot.
Rosenstein also said, “there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election,” confirming the dogged insistence by President Trump since the collusion allegations first surfaced that he deserves full credit for the defeat of Mrs. Clinton despite any Russian interference.
Rosenstein added that the U.S. must not allow Russia to divide Americans, and declared that, “the Department of Justice will continue to work cooperatively with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies and with Congress to defend our nation against similar current and future schemes.”
TRUMP CLAIMS EXONERATION
President Trump immediately pointed to the details of the plot, as outlined in the indictment, as proof that the accusations that his campaign actively colluded with Russian efforts to disrupt the election were unfounded. In a series of tweets, Trump claimed vindication and called for an end to “partisan attacks, wild and false allegations and far-fetched theories” against him and his campaign. He also said that the nation must “unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted,” he tweeted. “The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
Trump also tweeted, “if it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams,” Mr. Trump wrote.
Trump claimed that he had “never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” quoting a comment he made in a 2016 presidential debate.
“I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400-pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer. The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — it never did!” he tweeted.
TRUMP GIVES ADAM SCHIFF CREDIT
Trump had a rare word of ironic praise for one of his most outspoken Democrat critics in Washington, Congressman Adam Sunday, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff has conducted a bitter running feud with the committee’s Republican chairman David Nunes, whose memo recently brought to light the FBI’s improper use of allegations in the Steele dossier to obtain a search warrant from the secret FISA court against former Trump advisor Carter Page during the 2016 campaign.
“Finally, Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control, is now blaming the Obama Administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 Election,” Trump tweeted. “He is finally right about something. Obama was President, knew of the [Russian] threat, and did nothing. Thank you, Adam!”
“Now that Adam Schiff is starting to blame President Obama for Russian meddling in the election, he is probably doing so as yet another excuse that the Democrats, led by their fearless leader, Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election,” Trump tweeted.
Schiff responded by insisting that the Russian indictments do not exonerate Trump. He accused Trump of making the same mistake Obama did by failing to aggressively counter a previous disinformation campaign.
Schiff has said that former President Obama should have imposed more severe penalties on North Korea for a 2014 cyberattack it carried out on the Sony Corporation, which, Schiff says, encouraged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “I think that others around the world watched that and determined that cyber is a cost-free intervention,” Schiff told NBC.
Trump’s vindication from charges that he and his campaign colluded with the Russians from the indictments unsealed last week was only partial. The indictments do not relate to the Russian effort to interfere with the outcome of the election through the large-scale hacking of emails belonging to the Democrat National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The publication of those emails on the internet through WikiLeaks was a major embarrassment to Clinton during the campaign. She and many of her supporters are still making unproven allegations that members of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Russians to steal and publish the hacked emails in order to defeat her.
So far, after more than a year and a half of investigations, there is no public evidence of any conscious connection between the Trump campaign and the Russian effort to subvert the election.
In the absence of reliable evidence, it is now known that the FBI used a discredited dossier compiled by former British spy-for-hire Christopher Steele from anonymous Russian sources as opposition research for the Clinton campaign to obtain secret FISA court warrant to put members of the Trump campaign under surveillance before the election. Steele shared the allegations in the dossier, some of which he received from Clinton campaign operatives, with the media at the same time as he was supposed to be working exclusively for the FBI.
The unproven allegations in the dossier remain the subject of special counsel Mueller’s probe. He is also investigating Democrat allegations that President Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice by firing FBI Director James Comey last May and made other efforts to hinder the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference.
LIMBAUGH WARNS TRUMP AGAINST PREMATURE CELEBRATION
In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh offered a word of caution to President Trump against prematurely claiming exoneration from the special counsel’s investigation.
“I would be very careful if I was President Trump here,” Limbaugh said. “The danger for the president is [that] it would be very… seductive for him to embrace this [and] say ‘see, I’ve been vindicated’.” Then, if Trump were to be mentioned by Mueller in a future indictment, the president would be put in an embarrassing political situation.
“This whole thing is about setting Trump up for impeachment if the Democrats win [control of Congress] in 2018,” Limbaugh said. “He’s the target.”
The popular conservative icon dismissed the Steele dossier as a “paid political opposition research document” masquerading as an intelligence file. “The reason Hillary [Clinton] isn’t charged is because that would mean Obama would have to be exposed as participating in the scheme too,” Limbaugh added.
The Russian indictments were made public three days after a panel of U.S. intelligence chiefs told Congress that Russian leaders viewed their efforts to meddle in 2016 as a success and would likely repeat the effort for the midterm elections in November.
RUSSIANS SUPPORTED DIVISION MORE THAN A PARTICULAR CANDIDATE
The indictment reveals in some detail how the Russians operated to hinder and discredit Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and help her opponents. The Russians supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, her main challenger for the Democrat nomination, and the front-running GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
The subversive Russian social media effort also targeted members of U.S. minority groups and encouraged them not to vote in the election. For example, a false Instagram account titled “Woke Blacks,” posted a message on Oct. 16, 2016, saying, “We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils,” referring to Mrs. Clinton. Other disguised Russian ads encouraged voters to waste their ballots by supporting third-party presidential candidates with no chance of winning, such as Jill Stein.
The Russian effort to disrupt the American political process did not stop on Election Day. After Trump’s victory, the Russians organized both pro- and anti-Trump rallies on the same day, using different front organizations, proving that they were much more intent on sowing chaos and internal divisions in American society than in promoting any one candidate over another. The Russians covertly sponsored a “Trump is NOT my President” rally in New York the week after the November election and another rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, the following week.
Both MSNBC and CNN provided extensive daylong coverage of the anti-Trump rally the Russians sponsored in New York City on November 12. The networks’ reporters offered high praise for the efficiency of the young, anti-Trump protesters who served as “fronts” for the Russians, claiming that they were responsible for organizing the protest. In fact, the networks were blinded by their anti-Trump bias into providing free air time to a Russian organized and promoted rally intended to discredit the American electoral process. Fox News, by contrast provided minimal coverage of the same event.
OPERATING OUT OF ST. PETERSBURG STARTING IN 2014
The Russian social media efforts were coordinated by a company in St. Petersburg called the Internet Research Agency, which was set up in April, 2014, more than a year before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency. That was when Russians “began to track and study groups” on U.S. social-media platforms, the indictment said.
At the time, Mrs. Clinton was the prohibitive favorite to be the Democrat presidential nominee, while the race for the GOP presidential nomination, with a very large potential field of likely candidates, had not yet begun in earnest.
The Internet Research Agency was funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a restaurateur and caterer known for hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state dinners with foreign dignitaries. The funds were filtered through Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering, two shell companies that Prigozhin controls which were named in the indictment along with the Internet Research Agency and twelve other Russian individuals who worked for the organization.
Prigozhin is not upset by the federal indictment. He told a Russian news agency, “Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I’m not at all upset that I ended up on this list. If they want to see the devil – let them see it.”
A MAJOR SOCIAL MEDIA OPERATION
The operation in St. Petersburg employed more than 100 people to set up so-called “troll farms” in order to spread Russian propaganda on American social media outlets. More than 80 translators were hired to write provocative English language messages to be placed on American social media using fictitious online personas and hundreds of false accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They bought ads, coordinated with unwitting Trump campaign workers and paid U.S. activists to help organize political rallies in the U.S. to support Donald Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton. To set up the accounts they employed to carry out those efforts, the Russians used stolen and fake U.S. identities, fraudulent bank accounts and fake identification documents.
“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 [Bernie] Sanders and Trump — we support them.)’ “ according to the indictment.
Two of the co-conspirators named in the indictment visited the U.S. to conduct research and gather intelligence, and used clandestine methods to communicate and gather information, and to ensure security. The Russian managers of the operation used sophisticated tools to track the audience response to their fake posts on social-media using Facebook “likes” and other metrics in an effort to fine tune their message.
In 2016, the Russians began contacting U.S. political and social activists. They compiled an internal list of more than 100 U.S. citizens they had duped into cooperating with them, which included their names, political views and the political activities they had asked them to perform.
WHY THEY WORKED AGAINST CLINTON
According to the indictment, the Russians “primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.” During the competitive stage of the GOP primary season, the Russians also targeted Trump’s leading competitors for the nomination, “such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio,” the indictment said.
The Russians settled on Trump as their favored presidential candidate by April 2016, when he wrapped up the GOP nomination. At that point the Russians began producing and purchasing ads to promote Trump’s candidacy and “expressly opposing Clinton.”
There has been much speculation about why Putin ordered his covert effort to attack Clinton and support Trump. At the time, no one in the political establishment thought Trump had even a slim chance to defeat Clinton in the general election.
Putin sees the United States as Russia’s chief rival in the world, so attacking Clinton at that time was a way for him to undermine support for the person who was most likely to be his next main opponent on the world stage.
TRYING TO INFLUENCE REAL AMERICAN POLITICS
The Russians used their fake accounts to influence real American political activism. The false identities were used to communicate with “unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump campaign involved in local community outreach, as well as grass-roots groups that supported then-candidate Trump,” the indictment said.
One fake persona the Russians created, Matt Skiber, rallied online contacts via Facebook to help organize pro-Trump marches. In August, 2016, a grass-roots activist in Texas sent the Skiber account practical advice, recommending that efforts be focused on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.” In response to that email, the fictitious Skibber account sent the Texas activist a link to a Facebook page listing Florida rallies. It asked that the information be passed on to Tea Party members in Florida, which the Texas activist, unaware that the Russians were using him as a pawn, agreed to do.
The Russian effort also included paying Americans to participate in their political rallies. In one case, an American was paid to build a cage on a flatbed truck and a second was paid to portray Mrs. Clinton in the cage, dressed in a prison uniform.
In late July, the Russians used a Facebook group called “Being Patriotic” and a @March_for_Trump Twitter account to contact Trump campaign staffers about a series of rallies dubbed “Florida Goes Trump.”
One of the campaign’s paid Facebook ads ran on October 19, 2016. It said: “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is.”
TOO SMALL TO BE EFFECTIVE
By September 2016, the Internet Research Agency was spending more than $1.25 million a month, using more than a dozen different bank accounts.
However, the amount the Russians spent paying for ads on social media was tiny, amounting to a small fraction of 1% of the money spent on social media by the campaigns for the two major presidential candidates.
But some of their social media efforts were successful in reaching a mass audience. For example, a Twitter account which the Russians created purported to belong to the Tennessee Republican Party. It used the handle “Ten GOP,” and would eventually gain more than 100,000 followers.
The estimated $100,000 the Russians spent on their paid social media ad effort was dwarfed by the Clinton and Trump campaigns, which spent a total of $81 million on social media ads. In addition, there were hundreds of pro-Clinton organizations, including labor unions, that conducted their own social media efforts on behalf of their candidate.
The indictment also reveals how the Russians tried to cover their tracks whenever their operations came to light by such methods as deleting phony email accounts and erasing social media posts which had been exposed as forgeries.
Shortly after the indictments were unsealed, Mueller’s office revealed that it had obtained a guilty plea from Richard Pinedo, a Californian who admitted he sold bank account numbers that were created using the stolen identities of real Americans. The Russians used them to evade the security measures used by PayPal and other credit institutions to verify new accounts. According to his plea agreement Pinedo faces up to 1½ years in prison.
Pinedo joins several other individuals, such as Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates, and former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. They have filed guilty pleas or been indicted by Mueller and his team for separate crimes unrelated to the alleged Russian-Trump conspiracy itself.
DUELING MESSAGES IN MUNICH
Over the weekend, President Trump’s national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster said at the international security conference in Munich that the release of the indictments makes the evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, “now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain. Now that this is in the arena of a law-enforcement investigation, it will be very apparent to everyone.”
McMaster added that the covert Russian propaganda campaigns are intended to undermine all western democracies. He said the Russian effort to use internet technology for its political deception campaign, which he described using the Russian phrase “maskirovka,” was “just not working.” He claimed that instead, the effort was uniting Americans and Europeans “against Russia and Russian interference.”
Trump noted McMaster’s comments and said that his national security advisor should have added that the “results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians.”
McMaster made his remarks immediately after Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied the accusation of Russian interference in the U.S. election before the same audience in Munich. “Until we see the facts, everything else is just blabber,” Lavrov said.
Foreign policy expert and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton attended the Munich meeting. Speaking on the conference sidelines, Bolton suggested that Trump use the federal indictments as “a potential pivot point” to toughen his stance on Russia by endorsing the imposition of new sanctions.
Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. replied to the indictments by claiming that the U.S. rather than is the main source of cyberattacks in the world today.
Kislyak declared, “We never got involved as a government in the political life in the United States. I have never done anything of this sort nor did my embassy.
“These are simply fantasies which are being used for political reasons inside the United States in the fight between different sides of the political divide that is haunting the United States now,” the Russian diplomat claimed.
DOES MUELLER HAVE ANY EVIDENCE OF A TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY
The main unanswered question is whether Mueller has uncovered any substantial evidence of the existence of the alleged conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians which he was hired to investigate in the first place.
So far, there is no sign of it. The indictments against Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates, relate to their business relationship with the former government of Ukraine and had nothing to do with the 2016 campaign.
The boasts of obscure former volunteer campaign worker George Papadopoulos about damaging information his Russian contacts had on Mrs. Clinton to an Australian diplomat was the excuse used by anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok to launch the investigation. Carter Page, another Trump advisor with little influence, whose long record of apologizing for Vladimir Putin made him a convenient fall guy. He was used by the FBI, citing unproven accusations in the Steele Dossier, to get a FISA search warrant to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign. But past that point, the collusion investigation has not made much progress.
WAS FLYNN DUPED INTO TAKING A GUILTY PLEA?
New questions are now being raised about the Mueller investigation’s most significant accomplishment to date, the agreement by Michael Flynn to plead guilty to lying to an FBI investigator (again Mr. Strzok) during an ambush interview in January, 2017.
The original judge in Flynn’s case has recused himself, and the new judge has postponed Flynn’s sentencing until May, amid reports that a number of FBI officials did not believe that Flynn had, in fact, deliberately lied to them.
If he didn’t lie, why did Flynn agree to the guilty plea? Simple. Mueller and his prosecutors had put Flynn under enormous financial and family pressure by threatening to indict Flynn’s son on criminal charges.
It now appears that Mueller’s prosecutors withheld the original opinion of the FBI agents that Flynn had not lied from his defense lawyers before he made his plea. That could jeopardize the entire case against Flynn, and cause his original guilty plea to be thrown out.
RUSSIA PROBE NOW GOING SIDEWAYS FOR DEMOCRATS
Meanwhile, from the Democrats’ point of view, the recent revelations in the Russian investigation have gone off into an unexpected and unwelcome direction. Instead of uncovering proof of the suspected Trump-Russian conspiracy, the investigation is revealing troubling connections between the Russians and the Clinton campaign.
The most promising early lead pointing to possible Trump involvement, a meeting set up at Trump Tower by Donald Trump Jr. with a Russian lawyer who promised to deliver dirt on Mrs. Clinton. The meeting took place in June 2016 with the participation of Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, who decided that it was a waste of time and cut off further contact. As a result, the meeting has led investigators nowhere.
Most of the newer discoveries have been brought to light by the investigations of Republican-led committees in the House and Senate, headed by Senators Grassley and Graham, and Congressman Nunes, rather than special counsel Mueller’s team.
TRUMP ACCUSERS NOW UNDER SCRUTINY
First there was the revelation that the accusations against Trump in the Steele dossier, which was secretly bought and paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, were based upon unverified Russian sources that, in turn, may have been part of the Kremlin’s election disinformation campaign.
Second was the fact that after the Steele dossier was leaked by its author to the media. The resulting Yahoo news story was improperly used by the FBI to try to verify the accusations in the dossier as the basis for a FISA court to issue a search warrant against a member of the Trump campaign.
Third was the fact that the FBI, after it fired Steele for leaking to the media, hid these relevant facts about Steele and his dossier from FISA court as it sought to extend the original search warrant.
Fourth, the FBI continued to use the dossier as the basis for its investigation, and to justify further renewals of the search warrant, after Steele told a British court that he couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of any of the allegations in his dossier.
WHAT WAS OBAMA’S ROLE
As this was going on, the U.S. intelligence agencies were aware of the Russian cyberattacks on the computers of the Democrat National Committee, and their hacking of the emails of Clinton campaign John Podesta. Yet President Obama chose not to reveal that the Russians were behind those actions to the voters until after the election.
It was also during the post-election transition that the U.S. intelligence agencies implicitly endorsed the allegations of the Steele dossier by including them in a presidential briefing. At the same time, senior members of the Obama administration were engaged in a widespread campaign of leaking embarrassing classified information about members of the incoming Trump team for anonymous publication in the mainstream media.
Those Obama officials who were involved in “unmasking” the names of Trump team members caught in the surveillance from the improperly obtained FISA warrant, which were then leaked to the media, include National Security Advisor Susan Rice, her deputy, Ben Rhodes, U.N. ambassador Samantha Power, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and CIA director John Brennan. A recently uncovered memo which Rice emailed to herself minutes after she and Obama left office has raised suspicions that Obama may have been briefed on the Trump dossier by FBI director Jim Comey at a January 5 meeting in the White House, and was aware of how it was being misused by his people. Rice’s curious email, written 16 days later, may have been an after-the-fact attempt to revise the record of that meeting. Rice claimed that Obama had told everyone present on January to do everything “by the book,” and by inference perhaps suggesting that in fact, they had not been doing so.
TOP FBI OFFICIALS PAYING A HIGH PRICE
All of this illegal activity was deliberately hidden from public view by FBI and other government officials who delayed or stonewalled requests for relevant information from the members of the authorized congressional oversight committees. The disclosure of the complicity of high FBI and Department of Justice officials in that coverup effort has already resulted in the forced departure of many of them.
The first to go was FBI Director Comey He was fired last May by President Trump. In revenge, Comey arranged for the leaking of confidential memos of his meetings with the president to the New York Times in order to trigger the appointment of his old comrade at the Justice Department, William Mueller, as special counsel to take over the FBI investigation.
Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was forcibly retired immediately after his role in the issuance of the FISA search warrant based upon the Steele dossier was revealed. FBI lawyer Lisa Page and senior FBI agent Peter Strzok, whose email exchanges helped to reveal the extent of the agency’s pro-Clinton and anti-Trump bias, were reassigned and demoted. FBI general counsel James Baker resigned. The former FBI director’s chief of staff, James Rybicki, resigned. Mike Kortan, FBI assistant director for public affairs, took retirement. Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr was reassigned and demoted after it was revealed that his wife was hired by Fusion GPS as a Russia research assistant to help Steele with the dossier. Justice Department’s counterintelligence head, David Laufman, has also resigned.
DEMOCRATS IN WASHINGTON CIRCLE THEIR WAGONS
The information has been coming out slowly, in dribs and drabs, with congressional Democrats providing political cover for the government bureaucrats who had been blocking its release.
Their motive is not hard to fathom. Members of the Washington establishment from both parties (a.k.a. the swamp that Trump had promised he would drain as president) have invested almost all of their political capital for the past year in trying to sell the story of criminal conspiracy between senior members of Trump’s team or the president himself, with Vladimir Putin, in a joint effort to steal the White House from Hillary Clinton.
By the time that Trump wrapped up the 2016 GOP nomination, Clinton’s allies had recruited the enthusiastic support of some of the country’s most respected mainstream media outlets and their senior writers. Some publicly admitted that they had agreed to set aside basic journalistic standards of fair and honest reporting for the greater goal of defeating Trump, whom they deemed to be too dangerous to be president, by engineering the election of Mrs. Clinton, despite her many faults and criminal conduct.
Democrat party officials fixed their primary system to give Clinton an unfair advantage over Bernie Sanders, who was clearly robbed of a fair shot to win the nomination. At the same time, the mainstream media deliberately slanted its news coverage against Trump at every opportunity to the extent that it revealed that bias to the public, undercutting the credibility of its own reporting. That bias continues until today.
A MAJOR MEDIA CONSPIRACY REVEALED
The list of additional media outlets and journalists who were made aware of the Steele dossier before the election is extensive. Reuters reported that it was briefed on the dossier and its national security reporter Mark Hosenball became an advocate of the dossier’s findings. BBC’s Paul Wood was briefed on the dossier a week before the election. Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald likely saw Steele’s work around the same time, based upon an anti-Trump article he published days before the election citing the same names and “facts” promoted by Steele’s DNC- and Clinton-funded opposition research.
A news analysis by Lee Smith, the former editor of the Weekly Standard, suggests that the leading outlets of the mainstream media do not dare report fully on the latest revelations of collusion between its reporters and those who were behind the Steele dossier to protect their reputations.
According to Smith, some of the most respected journalists of the mainstream media, the top political operatives in the Clinton camp, and sympathetic members of the U.S. intelligence community set up a political echo chamber during the summer of 2016 in an effort to establish the main accusations against Trump in the still unpublished Steele dossier. The charges were being circulated through Glenn Simpson and his Fusion GPS operatives to some of the most respected American journalists writing on foreign and national security affairs today. They include New Yorker editor David Remnick, Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, former New Republic editor Franklin Foer, and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, all of whom were freely quoting each other, as well as the unproven allegations in the dossier, in order to build their case against Trump.
A COORDINATED ONSLAUGHT
The first article in the onslaught was published by Foer in Slate on July 4, 2016. Its title called Trump “Putin’s Puppet.” The timing of the article’s publication is important because it highlighted the role of Carter Page, building up his reputation as an expert on Russian energy investments, several days before his alleged meeting with top Putin allies in Moscow. According to the Steele dossier, Putin’s people offer to pay Page a huge 19% commission on a major deal involving the state-owned Rosneft energy company. That was the secret quid pro quo in return for Page getting Trump to agree to lift the existing U.S. sanctions on Russia that were imposed after Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. The article by Foer set the stage for the subsequent effort by those promoting the dossier to portray the obscure Page into Trump’s chief agents in the conspiracy with the Russians to alter the outcome of the election.
In fact, according to a September 2016 article in Politico, Page was just a mid-level executive at the Merrill Lynch office in Moscow who did not play a significant role in any of the major energy deals being set up at the time. Until Trump read his name off a list of his campaign’s foreign policy advisors during a March interview with the Washington Post, almost no one in the Washington foreign policy community had ever heard of Carter Page.
The alarm expressed by these writers over Donald Trump’s alleged affinity for Vladimir Putin and his reluctance to confront Russia is surprising. At the time, the America-first foreign policy which Trump was espousing was closer to the non-confrontational approach which President Obama had followed during his presidency than the much more assertive, national security-minded approach supported by the GOP’s foreign policy establishment. That was a main reason why Trump had so much trouble getting recognized GOP foreign policy experts to join his campaign.
Applebaum and Goldberg published stories on the same day, July 21, 2016, which took up the same theme. Applebaum, citing Foer’s article in slate as a source for Trump’s business connections to Russia through Carter Page, warned that a ““Trump presidency could destabilize Europe.”
Goldberg’s article, entitled, “It’s Official: Hillary Clinton is Running Against Vladimir Putin,” cited the same alleged Trump business interests through Carter Page as proof that Trump intended as president to align the U.S. with “Russia’s geostrategic interests.”
MAKING THE SAME FACTUAL MISTAKES
Another telltale sign that Applebaum and Goldberg were working from the same Fusion GPS sources was their citation of the erroneous claim that Trump had “watered down” the original plank on policy toward Ukraine in the Republican party’s 2016 convention platform for fear of offending Putin.
That was a widely reported myth. In fact, just the opposite occurred. The original platform language had endorsed the policy of the Obama administration in support of the pro-Western Ukraine government, but refusing to send it lethal defensive weapons. According to an article published in the Washington Examiner by Byron York, one of the convention delegates whom he had interviewed pushed for the inclusion of tougher language in the platform against Russia, and got it without any opposition from the Trump camp. As a result, York wrote, “the platform, already fairly strong on the Russia-Ukraine issue, was strengthened, not weakened.”
Applebaum and Goldberg had also warned that Trump as president might not stand behind the critical security guarantee in Article V of the NATO treaty. It guarantees that the U.S. and all the other members of the alliance would come to the defense of any member which might be attacked. This, too, was a recurring theme in the Steele dossier.
In fact, Applebaum and Goldberg conveniently forgot that Obama had already compromised the Article V commitment. In 2012, he and other NATO leaders quietly warned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan against invoking Article V after President Bashar Assad’s Russian supported Syrian army shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane over Turkish territory.
JOURNALISTS WHO SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER
Goldberg, who interviewed Obama five times during his presidency, offered no criticism when Obama boasted to him in 2016 of his proudest diplomatic moment. That occurred in 2013 when Obama backed down, at Putin’s behest, from his threat to punish Assad militarily for crossing Obama’s declared “red line” by using chemical weapons to massacre Syrian civilians.
Applebaum also should have known better. She has written books on Europe and Russia, and her husband is the former foreign minister of Poland. How could she have forgotten that during Obama’s presidency, the U.S. reneged on its promise to set up a missile defense system in Poland due to Russia’s objections? She also knew that Obama did nothing to stop Putin from blackmailing every country in Eastern Europe with the threat of a cut off in supplies of Russian natural gas upon which their people were dependent during the winter months.
These themes were also prominent in David Remnick’s August 3, 2016 article in the New Yorker. He also cited Trump’s alleged business ties to Russia through Carter Page, and concerns about Trump’s willingness to honor Article V of the NATO treaty.
GOOD FROM OBAMA BUT BAD FROM TRUMP?
The same basic question applies to all of these journalistic “experts.” How can essentially the same foreign policies they regarded as enlightened and above reproach when they were employed by President Obama suddenly become a grave danger to the national interest when adopted by a President Trump?
For Smith, the similar arguments made by all of these authors, which were identical to the main allegations of the Trump dossier, whose existence was not yet public knowledge, could have only one explanation. They all had to emanate from a common source, Fusion GPS, peddling the allegations against Trump which originated from the Clinton campaign and Steele’s Russian sources. They were also accepted without a shred of proof by high level officials in the FBI, the Justice Department and other U.S. intelligence agencies. Together, they created the anti-Trump “echo chamber” which has been driving the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory for more than a year and a half.
SETTING UP A SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN
Lee also suggests that the interlocking stories written by Fier, Applebaum, Goldberg, and Remnick were intended to set a media base line which would be the foundation of a social media campaign to push Clinton’s candidacy by undermining Trump’s credibility.
The headlines of their articles became ready-made 140-character tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram messages which the Clinton campaign and its followers could then use to blanket the internet: “Putin’s Puppet”; “It’s Official: Hillary Clinton is Running Against Vladimir Putin”; “Trump and Putin”; “The Kremlin’s Candidate.”
They justified it to themselves as a necessary means to a desirable end. Everybody who read the polls assumed that Clinton would easily win. Nobody in the elite media circles was willing to tolerate the thought that Trump could be elected president, prompting them to violate basic journalistic principles in order to prevent that possibility.
They must have assumed that all memory of their professional transgressions, in such a patriotic cause, would quickly evaporate and be forgotten in the era of good feeling which would follow Clinton’s victory.
EXPOSING THE MEDIA CONSPIRACY
That was one unstated reason why the mainstream media was so alarmed by Trump’s victory. It threatened to expose their complicity in the larger disinformation conspiracy conducted on Clinton’s behalf. It was managed by Fusion GPS and involved the FBI, other intelligence agency officials, and senior members of the Obama administration.
After the election, all of them were trying to protect themselves by insisting that the wild allegations of the Steele dossier were really true. The problem is that there still isn’t any proof.
All is not yet lost, however. William Mueller and his pro-Clinton prosecutors are still on the job. They are desperately searching for evidence that proves that Trump conspired with Putin, or was being blackmailed by Putin, or that he tried to obstruct justice by interfering in an investigation in which no crime had been committed, or that he has done something that would justify his impeachment.
As more time passes without finding such evidence, those behind the lies about Trump and their sources are being revealed to the public. If evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy is never found, then all those who were complicit in the manufacturing and marketing of “Russiagate” should eventually be forced to pay the price for their efforts to dupe the American electorate and discredit a duly elected American president.