Friday, June 02, 2017

Recognizing the seriousness of the Trump-Russia scandal while being careful about the facts

The gravitational pull of the Russia-Russia-Russia story, aka, the Trump-Russia scandal, is strong. And I try to avoid being too caught up in it.

But the hits do just keep on coming. Brian Williams reported yesterday on MSNBC, which has been relentlessly pounding the story, for better or worse, Trump Administration Allegedly Had Secret Plan To Ease Russia Sanctions The 11th Hour 06/01/2017:



Former Under Secretary of State Rick Stengel makes a practical and important point in that segment, "The way diplomacy works is through reciprocity."

That gets to my concern about Trump foreign policies that in themselves may look good. Going from a poor relationship with Russia to a better one is a big shift. And to get there would involve real deal-making. Not Trump business-style deal-making where he sets up a company, bankrupts it, and then stiffs the creditors.

In the unlikely event that Hillary Clinton had won the election and determined that improving relations with Russia would be a top priority - a very unlikely scenario, but stranger things have happened - we would have seen her making a big issue about Russian intervention in the election. But then she would have worked on getting deals with Russia that would involve various trade-offs. In the best case, the goal would have been ultimately to build a relationship that would wind up with (1) a nuclear arms agreement that further reduced nuclear weapons stockpiles on both sides and (2) coming to some agreement that the US and NATO would limit their poking around in politics in nations just to the west of Russia like Georgia and Ukraine, with Russia backing off of threatening nearby NATO members like the Baltic countries.

But to get there would have required bargaining and various kinds of diplomatic, political and, yes, military posturing, to be used as ingredients of deals that would be used to build to a wider agreement. It's not at all cynical to recognize that just giving the other side in the negotiation what they want without getting anything in return is likely to lead to a breakdown in trust and willingness to deal. So there is good reason to worry that the blundering diplomacy of the Trump Family Business Administration is less likely to achieve even desirable ends than more conventional approaches might be expected to accomplish.

The news that the Trump Family Business Administration intends to hand over the two resorts in the US back to the Russians that the Obama Administration shut down because they were used for spy activity prompted this response from Charlie Pierce, who has continually stressed the importance of the Trump-Russia story (There's So Much Russia Happening Right Now Esquire Politics Blog 06/01/2017).

... the general scope of the disaster that is gathering speed in the direction of the White House is becoming clearer. There is virtually nobody in the Trump inner circle who is not compromised in some way by the connections the campaign had with the oligarchs and kleptocrats, and now that seems to be spreading into the Cabinet as well.

The corruption is systemic.
I remain dubious that proving actual collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government will be very difficult. Though given the arrogance and amateurism of this Administration, who knows? But the liklihood is that the dubious business deals are at the core of the Trump-Russia scandal, as Pierce writes in a different post, It's Still All About the Money, and Robert Mueller Knows It 05/31/2017:

It's going to be about the money. It always was going to be about the money. There is something distinctly rotten at the heart of the president*'s family business, about which the president* and the rest of the Borgias don't want the world to know. The money is all that matters to these people. The money always has been all that matters to these people. The money is central to whatever arrangements the extended clan made with the Russian banks, which is to say with the Russian governments. The money is central to the absurd defense of Michael Flynn and the preposterous alleged double-naught escapades of the Dauphin with the Russian ambassador. The money may be the only thing of which the president* himself is consistently cognitively aware.
His use of "president*" is a way of referring to Trump's losing the popular vote and having only the most dubious qualifications for the job.

Robert Perry has been a left gadfly on the Trump-Russia scandal. I actually think he's being a little too nit-picky on some of his skepticism. Any way you cut it, senior official lying under oath and providing incomplete information on their security clearance forms about their various contacts with Russian officials looks pretty suspicious. Also firing the FBI Director and saying it was over his investigation of possible crimes in the Trump-Russia scandal.

But he makes some valid points in Hillary Clinton’s Deceptive Blame-Shifting Consortium News 06/01/2017 about how Hillary Clinton and some other corporate Democrats are misusing the scandal to detract for their own failures in the 2016 election. And also not being particular scrupulous about sticking to what is known in the public record. he writes:

Referring to a report released by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on Jan. 6, Clinton asserted that “Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election. They did it through paid advertising we think; they did it through false news sites; they did it through these thousand agents; they did it through machine learning, which you know, kept spewing out this stuff over and over again. The algorithms that they developed. So that was the conclusion.”

But Clinton’s statement is false regarding the unanimity of the 17 agencies and misleading regarding her other claims. Both former DNI James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan acknowledged in sworn testimony last month that the Jan. 6 report alleging Russian “meddling” did not involve all 17 agencies.

Clapper and Brennan stated that the report was actually the work of hand-picked analysts from only three agencies – the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation – under the oversight of the DNI’s office. In other words, there was no consensus among the 17 agencies, a process that would have involved some form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a community-wide effort that would have included footnotes citing any dissenting views.

Instead, as Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8, the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (or ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” the former DNI said.

And, as Clapper explained, the “ICA” was something of a rush job beginning on President Obama’s instructions “in early December” and completed by Jan. 6. Clapper continued: “The two dozen or so analysts for this task were handpicked, seasoned experts from each of the contributing agencies.”

In other words, Clinton’s beloved claim that all 17 intelligence agencies were in agreement on the Russian “hacking” charge – an assertion that the “factchecking” group Politifact has certified as “true” and that has been repeated endlessly by the mainstream U.S. news media – is not true. It is false. Gee, you might even call it “fake news.”
He's right about that. Hillary started using the "17 intelligence agencies" line during the 2016 campaign. And she, her hardcore loyalist and at least some pundits continue to use it. Why try to gild the lily by exaggerating the serious of the already very series ICA on the Russian hacking?

Perry quotes this Hillary version from May 31, just a couple of days ago: "Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election." Yeah, that's gilding the lily.

Perry quotes another comment of hers from that same appearance:

In Wednesday’s interview – after misrepresenting what the Jan. 6 report actually said – Clinton suggested that the Trump campaign must have colluded with the Russians in “weaponizing” the data.

“How did they know what messages to deliver?” Clinton asked. “Who told them? Who were they coordinating with, or colluding with? … [The Russians] were conveying this weaponized information and the content of it. … So the Russians — in my opinion and based on the intel and the counterintel people I’ve talked to — could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided. … Guided by Americans and guided by people who had polling and data information.”

Although Clinton lacked any proof of this convoluted accusation, she cited as her “best example” the fact that “within one hour, one hour of the ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes being leaked [in which Trump was caught boasting about groping women], within one hour, the Russians — let’s say WikiLeaks, something — dumped the John Podesta emails.”

However, if you changed the context of this claim slightly – and made a similar jump in logic – you would surely be labeled a nutty conspiracy theorist, but instead Clinton has drawn nods of agreement for this wholly unsubstantiated speculation.
I thought something like that when I first say that quote. "So the Russians — in my opinion and based on the intel and the counterintel people I’ve talked to — could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided. … Guided by Americans and guided by people who had polling and data information.” Really? Maybe she's referring to something that's not yet in the public record, but I don't want to speculate. It certainly didn't strike me as obvious on the face of it.

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