PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Damage Russiagate Has Done
Authoritarian liberals have unleashed a censorious syndrome peculiar to our national character, dating to 17th century Quaker hangings in Boston.
An inhabitant of Twitterland named “Willow Inski” took to the keyboard on Oct. 11, asking why anyone still accepts official accounts of the crucial theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta in the spring of 2016.
I don’t understand how we’re still taking at face value that there was an actual breaking into the DNC/Podesta server/email. The “break-in” is too convenient & seems to be part & parcel of the whole scheme (the Russia collusion b.s.)— Willow (@Willowinski) October 11, 2020
The FBI never examined the DNC server.
Excellently observed, Willow. And at just the right moment. At this point we are amid a frenzy of what Hannah Arendt called “defactualization” in a 1971 essay she titled “Lying in Politics.” Facts are fragile, Arendt astutely observed, because they can so easily be manipulated to produce a desired image. “It is this fragility,” she wrote, “that makes deception so very easy up to a point, and so tempting.”
The latest example of this phenom concerns the emails of Hunter Biden, candidate Joe’s errant son, which persuasively incriminate both in very profitable influence-peddling schemes when Papa was Barack Obama’s veep.
Nobody denies the facts as published last week in The New York Post, not even Biden père et fils, but the facts are once again mutilated with assertions that it is another case of the Rrrrrrussians spreading disinformation.
This is what we get after four years of the Russia collusion b.s., otherwise known as Russiagate. Anything goes if implicating Russia solves a political problem for the Democrats and keeps the war machine going for the Pentagon and the national security state. It defers the moment — at some point it will come — when the press is exposed for its radically stupid overinvestment in the Russiagate nonsense. The price America has already begun to pay is very high.
Willow’s expression of perplexity comes after an especially lively season of revelations as regards what must count as the largest disinformation op in U.S. history. It is now six months since the Russiagate hoax — and I am fine with President Donald Trump’s term for it — began its final crash into a pile of piffle. While it remains to be seen whether more evidence of political chicanery is coming, what evidence we already have is more than sufficient to identify Russiagate as the probable criminal fraud it was from the start.
I am refreshed that Willow Inski, who describes herself as an “attorney, wife, mother, proud American,” sees through this extravagant ruse. And yet, as she notes, a lot of people don’t. A lot of people are “still taking at face value” all the misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies our newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters have purveyed incessantly for the past four years.
Why is a very large question. All possible answers are disturbing. But here is another big one we get to before that: When we consider together all its many consequences, has Russiagate destroyed what remained of American democracy before illiberal liberals, spooks, law enforcement, and the press colluded to erect the dreadful edifice?
The Damage Done
Your columnist’s answer rests on the most scrupulously precise definition of Russiagate one can manage: What we have witnessed these past four years is an attempted palace coup against a sitting president.
Cold comfort it is that the gang that couldn’t shoot straight bungled the job. It has also created a Democratic default position: When wrongdoing by Democrats is credibly exposed, automatically blame Russia. Among much else, that has led to unnecessary tension with a nuclear power. This damage will long stay with us.
Russiagate’s foundation stone — baseless allegations that Moscow was responsible for the 2016 DNC email intrusions — crumbled long ago. We’ve known since July 2017 that nobody hacked the email servers in question.
This was confirmed by the Dec. 5, 2017, closed-door congressional testimony of Shawn Henry, president of CrowdStrike, the firm the Democrats hired to examine the DNC servers. It was made public only on May 7, 2020. Henry said under oath: “There’s not evidence that they [the emails] were actually exfiltrated. There’s circumstantial evidence … but no evidence that they were actually exfiltrated. …”
The emails were most likely compromised by someone with direct access to them, probably a DNC insider. ’Twas a leak, not a hack.
But incessant propaganda and a sloppy but effective coverup have kept the fable going since then. All has been open game these past years, scabrous, apparent false-flag poisonings — the Skripals, Alexei Navalny —baseless tales of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers’ heads. The press has reported this sort of rubbish for years as if it were confirmed fact. Spectral evidence has reigned.
It is this coverup that has been falling apart since last spring.
First came news that the collusion case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, was bogus and that Flynn entered his two guilty pleas when prosecutors threatened to indict his son if he refused. When the Justice Department dropped its case against Flynn, it simultaneously forced the House Intelligence Committee to release documents showing that no “evidence” of a Russian email hack ever existed, even as the Democrats, the spooks, and the press missed no chance to bang on about it.
Those who got my goat at the time were people such as Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman from Hollywood and leader of the charge on Capitol Hill, who knew there was no evidence of Russian involvement but repeatedly insisted they had seen it whenever they faced a CNN camera.
You are right, Ms. Inski: Crowdstrike, the grossly corrupt firm that was supposed to have all the evidence one could ever want, never had any. Former FBI Director James Comey admitted in testimony that the FBI asked for but never gained possession of the DNC server, even though this would be the “best practice.” We can surmise that this was so, so that the bureau could deny responsibility for what amounts to a psyop perpetrated against Americans. In June 2019 it was reported that CrowdStrike also never gave the FBI a final report because none was ever produced since the FBI never asked for one.
Among the congressional testimonies released last spring, two top Clinton campaign operatives, Podesta and Jake Sullivan, acknowledged that they met after Trump’s election with the principals of Fusion GPS, the infamous orchestrator of the Steele Dossier, to keep the Russiagate ball rolling. What a difference speaking under oath makes.
Actually, what got my goat a second time was that none of this, as in none, was reported in The New York Times or anywhere else in the mainstream media. Our once-but-no-more newspaper of record has made an absolute dog’s dinner of itself since its leadership decided to buy into the Russiagate junk. At this point I am convinced its ties to the spooks are as dense and corrupt as they were during the worst of the Cold War decades, when the publisher signed a covert agreement to cooperate with the CIA.
Clinton Approved Plan
As if any more reports were needed to deflate the Russiagate balloon, the evidence continues to accumulate. At the end of September John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, informed Senator Lindsey Graham that intelligence agencies had information “alleging that U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee.” Some of us knew this four years ago.
While Ratcliffe’s letter adds that spookworld “does not know the accuracy of this allegation,” it goes on to note that the intel in question was serious enough for John Brennan, then the CIA director, to brief President Barack Obama about it and forward it to Comey and Peter Strzok, respectively FBI director and deputy assistant director of counterintelligence at the time. This is the referral, of course, that Comey now claims he cannot recall a damn thing about.
Given the Podesta and Sullivan testimonies, the Ratcliffe disclosures stitch the case: In my view, the Clinton campaign’s active role in starting and prolonging the Russiagate propaganda operation is now open-and-shut. (It was first reported in October 2017 by Consortium News and predicted by me in Salon on July 26, 2016 and three days before the 2016 election by CN‘s editor).
I wrote back then in Salon:
“Making lemonade out of a lemon, the Clinton campaign now goes for a twofer. Watch as it advances the Russians-did-it thesis on the basis of nothing, then shoots the messenger, then associates Trump with its own mess — and, finally, gets to ignore the nature of its transgression (which any paying-attention person must consider grave).”
In the matter of goats, the Ratcliffe letter seems to have gotten Trump’s. A week later he took to Twitter calling for the declassification, without redaction, of all documents related to the Russiagate probes.
This isn't what you just told the judge. What's the matter? Afraid of declassifying because it would uncover the coverups you have worked so hard on? By the way barr has already had access to this info and the investigation ENDED last week with NOTHING. You're chickenshit huh? pic.twitter.com/ZwyWDVi5XP— Jason S. (@jaydotcom) October 20, 2020
Although Trump did not issue an official order to this effect, this amounts to a direct challenge to what he has been all along referring to as the Deep State. (Trump first “ordered” the declassification, and was ignored, in September 2018.) Last Thursday Ratcliffe formally requested an investigation of the “Intelligence Community Assessment” of January 2017, a worthless put-up job that purported to confirm Russian “meddling.” The CIA’s inspector general ignored an earlier such request.
Will more come out? Will the investigation Trump ordered earlier this year by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham get all the way to the bottom? This is hard to say. We’ve since had credible reports that CIA Director Gina Haspel, known for authorizing post–2001 torture and destroying evidence of it, has personally blocked the release of Russiagate-related documents from the CIA’s files. And the repellent Haspel may win this one, given the record in such matters.
The Russiagate “narrative” is at this point so preposterous that these recent disclosures have also gone either badly reported or unreported in mainstream media. We ought not expect more in days to come. The press has only one alternative at this point: Either black it out or allege that Russia is using people such as Ratcliffe, just as we’re now asked to believe Moscow is manipulating The New York Post.
What an ungodly mess Russiagate has made of our splendid republic.
We have watched an attempted coup not much different from the CIA’s covert ops elsewhere over the decades, then gave the coup plotters three years to investigate the plot, and no one, as things now appear, will be brought to justice for these travesties.
Send in the historians. One hopes they’re already here.
The CIA, in breach of its charter, has now licensed itself to operate on U.S. soil in a probably unprecedented alliance with domestic law enforcement and a major political party. And it has told us in open defiance that it has no intention of submitting itself to executive or congressional control. No voice is raised, we must note with astonishment.
Government Without a Press
In 1787, when he was our new nation’s minister in Paris, Jefferson wrote home to a friend that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” We are stuck with a government without newspapers now, given the ties our press has consolidated its ties with political and bureaucratic power in the course of imposing the Russiagate ruse upon us.
They only look like newspapers now. The liberal media are now bulletin boards for those they serve — the Democratic Party, the spooks, and all the interests these two represent. Do they think that, once Trump leaves office, they can cavalierly reclaim the credibility they have profligately squandered in the service of Russiagate?
I see no chance of this. And here we have a silver lining: Russiagate will prove a key moment in the emergence of independent media (such as Consortium News) as important sources of accurate information and perspectives. This is already evident. At this point The New York Times is to sound reporting what Applebee’s is to a proper tavern serving good draft beer.
The worst consequence of Russiagate, in my view, is the swoon of hysteria it has sent many Americans into, a syndrome peculiar to our national character dating to the Quaker hangings in Boston during the early 1660s and repeated many times since. We are divided once again between the paranoid and the rational.
And there is an ideological distinction here that we must not miss. Willow Inski is a conservative and appears to be a Trumper. She addressed Paul Sperry, a New York Post reporter closely following the Russiagate debacle and also a conservative.
The paranoids, the Puritan preachers, the witch hunters, those who think censorship is a fine thing are this time one and all authoritarian liberals apparently determined to make everyone think as they do or else see to their banishment from the circles of the elect.
Let us debate opinions until the kingdom comes. But these people propose to debate facts because they understand the fragility Arendt noted all those years ago. This is not on.
“Under normal circumstances the liar is defeated by reality, for which there is no substitute,” Arendt wrote. “No matter how large the tissue of falsehood that an experienced liar has to offer, it will never be large enough, even if he enlists the help of computers, to cover the immensity of factuality.”
One hopes Arendt turns out to be right. One hopes the immensity of factuality eventually prevails. “Defactualization” in the service of all the Russiagate rubbish has gravely undermined numerous of our key institutions. As things now stand, this leaves us well short of what we need to reconstruct a working democracy.