What We Still Do Not Know About Russiagate: Prof Stephen Cohen

What We Still Do Not Know About Russiagate: Prof Stephen Cohen via UNZ Review

It must again be emphasized: It is hard, if not impossible, to think of a more toxic allegation in American presidential history than the one leveled against candidate, and then president, Donald Trump that he “colluded” with the Kremlin in order to win the 2016 presidential election—and, still more, that Vladimir Putin’s regime, “America’s No. 1 threat,” had compromising material on Trump that made him its “puppet.” Or a more fraudulent accusation.

Even leaving aside the misperception that Russia is the primary threat to America in world affairs, no aspect of this allegation has turned out to be true, as should have been evident from the outset. Major aspects of the now infamous Steele Dossier, on which much of the allegation was based, were themselves not merely “unverified” but plainly implausible.

Was it plausible, for example, that Trump, a longtime owner and operator of international hotels, would commit an indiscreet act in a Moscow hotel that he did not own or control? Or that, as Steele also claimed, high-level Kremlin sources had fed him damning anti-Trump information even though their vigilant boss, Putin, wanted Trump to win the election? Nonetheless, the American mainstream media and other important elements of the US political establishment relied on Steele’s allegations for nearly three years, even heroizing him—and some still do, explicitly or implicitly.

Not surprisingly, former special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. No credible evidence has been produced that Russia’s “interference” affected the result of the 2016 presidential election in any significant way. Nor was Russian “meddling” in the election anything akin to a “digital Pearl Harbor,” as widely asserted, and it was certainly far less and less intrusive than President Bill Clinton’s political and financial “interference” undertaken to assure the reelection of Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1996.

Nonetheless, Russiagate’s core allegation persists, like a legend, in American political life—in media commentary, in financial solicitations by some Democratic candidates for Congress, and, as is clear from my own discussions, in the minds of otherwise well-informed people. The only way to dispel, to excoriate, such a legend is to learn and expose how it began—by whom, when, and why.

Officially, at least in the FBI’s version, its operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign that began in mid-2016 was due to suspicious remarks made to visitors by a young and lowly Trump aide, George Papadopoulos. This too is not believable, as I pointed out previously. Most of those visitors themselves had ties to Western intelligence agencies. That is, the young Trump aide was being enticed, possibly entrapped, as part of a larger intelligence operation against Trump. (Papadopoulos wasn’t the only Trump associate targeted, Carter Page being another.)

But the question remains: Why did Western intelligence agencies, prompted, it seems clear, by US ones, seek to undermine Trump’s presidential campaign? A reflexive answer might be because candidate Trump promised to “cooperate with Russia,” to pursue a pro-détente foreign policy, but this was hardly a startling, still less subversive, advocacy by a would-be Republican president. All of the major pro-détente episodes in the 20th century had been initiated by Republican presidents: Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan.

So, again, what was it about Trump that so spooked the spooks so far off their rightful reservation and so intrusively into American presidential politics? Investigations being overseen by Attorney General William Barr may provide answers—or not. Barr has already leveled procedural charges against James Comey, head of the FBI under President Obama and briefly under President Trump, but the repeatedly hapless Comey seems incapable of having initiated such an audacious operation against a presidential candidate, still less a president-elect. As I have long suggested, John Brennan and James Clapper, head of the CIA and Office of National Intelligence under Obama respectively, are the more likely culprits. The FBI is no longer the fearsome organization it once was and thus not hard to investigate, as Barr has already shown. The others, particularly the CIA, are a different matter, and Barr has suggested they are resisting. To investigate them, particularly the CIA, it seems, he has brought in a veteran prosecutor-investigator, John Durham.

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For decades I have spent a couple of hours every morning carefully reading The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and several other major newspapers. But although such a detailed study of the American mainstream media is a necessary condition for remaining informed about our world, it is not sufficient. With the rise of the Internet and the alternative media, every thinking individual has increasingly recognized that there exist enormous lacunae in what our media tells us and disturbing patterns in what is regularly ignored or concealed. In April 2013 I published “Our American Pravda,” a major article highlighting some of the most disturbing omissions of our national media in issues of the greatest national importance. The considerable attention it attracted from The Atlantic, Forbes, and a New York Times economics columnist demonstrated that the mainstream journalists themselves were often all too aware of these problems, but perhaps found them too difficult to address within the confining structure of large media organizations. This reinforced my belief in the reality of the serious condition I had diagnosed.