Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Well and Truly Boggled, Part 1

My mind is well and truly boggled.  "Flying circus" doesn't even begin to do justice to it.  Look, I hate Donald Trump's guts.  I think he is the most unqualified, unsuited, corrupt, incompetent, insane and many other adjectives candidate for President, ever.  And it became increasingly clear that the Russians were pulling for him.  But I never suspected that there was any complicity on his part.  I dismissed such speculations at tinfoil hat territory.  When the suspicions wouldn't go away, firmly positioned myself as one of the respectable people who didn't believe it.

And yet there were some very strange things going on.  Trump's views on every other subject might be flighty as birds, but his pro-Russian views never changed.  And he continued to deny that the Russians were behind the hacks of the Democrats' e-mails no matter how overwhelming the evidence. I could think of only two explanations.  Either he was completely delusional, or he was lying. I preferred to think that he was lying because at least it meant he had some contact with reality and wouldn't do something truly insane.  But why would he be lying?  I didn't speculate on that.  Probably I thought it was just a matter of ego, he couldn't bring himself to admit the obvious because it would tarnish his victory.  I was quite in denial myself that Trump would have an obvious motive to lie if he knew that the Russians were behind the hacks from the start and was deeply complicit.

So let's start off with what we do know.

Beyond any doubt someone was hacking the Democratic National Committee and later John Podesta, chairman of Hillary's campaign.  The experts were unanimous in saying it was the Russians, not only the intelligence agencies which might be vulnerable to political pressure by Obama, but independent outsiders as well.

Yet Trump kept insisting in the face of all evidence that no one knew who was behind the hacks, that it could be anyone and there was no proof that it was Russia.  Even though he received regular intelligence briefings presenting him with the evidence, he continued to deny that there was any proof who was behind the hack.  Yes, it could be a delusion impervious to all evidence.  Or it could be a lie told out of egotistical unwillingness to admit the truth.  Or it could be a lie born out of complicit.  And let's admit it.  That last best explains his refusal to allow any amount of evidence to sway him.

The hacked material kept showing up on Wikileaks.  Initially, one could wonder if Russia was the source.  But as the time lag between Russian hacks and Wikileaks publication got shorter and shorter, it became harder and harder to dispute the source.  And Julian Assange of Wikileaks openly said that he was acting to harm Hillary.  Whether Wikileaks was in the tank for the Russians, the Russians continued to feed Wikileaks damaging material on Hillary Clinton and Wikileaks continued to publish.  Clearly Assange's actions pleased the Russians or they would not have continued to feed him information.  And give Trump's pro-Russian orientation, it should hardly be surprising that the Russians were eager to see him win.  But none of this is evidence of complicity.

What evidence is there of complicity?  Well, there is Trump's relentlessly pro-Russia approach to foreign policy.  While other Republicans may favor the policy that has been called omnidirectional belligerence, Trump appears to favor belligerence in all directions but one --Russia.  But that is not proof of complicity in the Russian hacks.  It might just mean that the Russians liked what they saw and decided to support him.  What other evidence is there?

It has been frequently noted that the Trump campaign and the Russians often show considerable similarity in messaging, such as both calling the investigation of the hacks a "witch hunt" aimed at delegitimizing Trump, both blaming the Democrats for not having better cyber security, and so forth. But that is not necessarily evidence of secret collusion.  It may just mean that ideological kindred think alike.  Or they could be quoting each other's open utterances.

Rather more suspicious was when the Trump campaign began repeating a specific Russian error.  What happened was this.  On October 21, 2015, Newsweek columnist Kurt Eichenwald wrote an extremely long column condemning the Benghazi investigations as no more than a partisan witch hunt designed to thwart Hillary Clinton's anticipated run for President.*  The column, though overwhelmingly addressed to denouncing the Republicans, does concede them one point:
One important point has been universally acknowledged by the nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable. Clinton was in charge of the State Department, and it failed to protect U.S. personnel at an American consulate in Libya. If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate.
 When the Russians hacked John Podesta's e-mails, they found one in which Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal attached a copy of that Newsweek article.  He may have quoted the article in the body of the e-mail as well.  (Not having seen the material leaked, I do not know).  Sputnik, the Russian news agency, ran a story attributing the above quote as an acknowledgement by Blumenthal himself.  Trump offered the Sputnik story within hours.  Of course, that doesn't necessarily prove any more than that the Trump campaign closely followed Sputnik, or at least were in contact with people who closely followed Sputnik.

And then there was Trump adviser Roger Stone, who on August 21, 2016 tweeted, "Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel."  And, indeed, when Wikileaks started publishing Podesta e-mails in October, this looked remarkably as though he had an inside tip.  And, in fact, Stone admitted  back channel contacts with Wikileaks, although he did not admit to any contacts with Russia, or to any contacts by Trump.

In short, you have a set of suggestive circumstances, but no clear evidence of complicity between Trump and Russia.  So I was prepared to dismiss this as Russia helping a favorable candidate, but without any active participation on his part.  But the latest revelation, together with Trump's remarkably persistent refusal to acknowledge Russia's obvious role in the hack and his unswervingly pro-Russian policies have changed my mind.  I now believe it most likely that we have elected a President who really is a Russian spy.

*It was from the Benghazi investigations that it was discovered that Hillary Clinton sent State Department e-mails on a private server and this was amplified into the worst crime committed by any political leader in the entire history of our Republic.

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