Monday, July 17, 2017

McCarthyism and the Trump-Russia scandal

Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report writes about a theme that some others who identify with the left also elaborate (The New McCarthyism Is Destroying the Democratic Party Truthdig 07/15/2017):

For more than a year now, the collective U.S. ruling class, with Democratic Party and corporate media operatives in the vanguard, has frozen the national political discourse in a McCarthyite time warp. A random visit to a July 26, 2016, issue of the New York Times reveals the same obsession as that which consumes the newspaper today: “Following the Links from Russian Hackers to the U.S. Election,” “Spy Agency Consensus Grows That Russia Hacked D.N.C.” A year later, the allegations persist, piled ever higher with innuendo and outright nonsense. However, proof of the predicate act — that Russia, not Wikileaks, penetrated the DNC — remains totally absent. [my emphasis]
As I've said before, this is a disingenuous argument. The January 6 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said:

This report includes an analytic assessment drafted and coordinated among The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA), which draws on intelligence information collected and disseminated by those three agencies. It covers the motivation and scope of Moscow’s intentions regarding US elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion. The assessment focuses on activities aimed at the 2016 US presidential election and draws on our understanding of previous Russian influence operations. When we use the term “we” it refers to an assessment by all three agencies. [my emphasis in italics]

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

  • We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence. [my emphasis in italics] ...

  • We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.
No, we don't have every bit of documentation of every step in the analysis. and 50 years from now, some new document will come out related to the case. But the fact that the FBI, the CIA and the NSA are saying this is something we can take as a fact. And if the Office of the DNI was lying about that, we need to know about that, as well. That's one of the reasons why we have a Congress, to investigate and confirm or disconfirm such claims.

But this is something that needs to be taken seriously. Those arguing otherwise should be explicit about what kind of evidence would convince them there's a real problem.

And that's just on the specifics of which hackers working for whom did what when. On the larger question of whether there was active collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, here's what Bob Bauer was writing a week ago (Open Door to Moscow? New Facts in the Potential Criminal Case of Trump Campaign Coordination with Russia Just Security 07/10/2017):

The Trump campaign in 2016 was signaling to Russia that it would be happy to have the Putin regime’s help. President Trump, as a candidate, famously called for Russia’s assistance. Later, when pressed, he repeatedly refused to clearly acknowledge its interference or condemn it.

Now it appears that Trump campaign was not simply hinting that it would welcome this help. The Wall Street Journal very recently, and now the New York Times, have reported active Trump campaign or campaign supporter contacts with Russian agents or intermediaries toward the goal of obtaining negative information about Hillary Clinton. And, for the first time, someone named Trump – Donald, Jr. – has publicly confirmed that the campaign communicated directly with a Russia foreign national connected with the Putin regime in the bid for material damaging to the former Secretary of State.

In previous pieces, I have discussed the ground of legal liability based on “substantial assistance” to, or “aiding and abetting,” a foreign national’s providing a “thing of value” to influence an election. To this date the evidence has been largely on the public record, in “plain sight,” and it included Mr. Trump’s own comments. The recently published reports do not replace this theory; they supplement it, or round it out, by corroborating that what the campaign was pursuing through private channels were the same goals–help from the Russians—that were strongly indicated by the candidate’s words and related public behavior.
Bauer continues directly to caution about the need to get a full picture in the public record:

Of course, it should go without saying that we will have a reliable grasp on the evidence only when the facts are developed and tested through the legal system. There are a host of questions still to be answered about the reported Trump campaign contacts. But the most recent press accounts are especially significant because they include specific statements on the record conceding the Trump campaign’s expressed interest in what the Russians could provide. Those statements show intent – a clear-cut willingness to have Russian support – and they reveal specific actions undertaken to obtain it. [my emphasis]
It's worth noting that what came to be known as "McCarthyism" involved people being accused of being Communists and thereby having their careers hurt and subject to public hostility. And it involved not just actual evidence, and not just specific evidence of law-breaking. It also involved smearing and something imprisoning people with innuendo, gossip and even manufactured testimony from "professional anti-Communists."

There's also only one degree of separation between President Trump and Joe McCarthy himself in the person of Trump's political mentor, Roy Cohn.(For just one reference, see ‘He Brutalized For You’ by Michael Kruse Politico 04/08/2017.

I want to unpack this part of Ford's column:

The only unequivocal winner is the bipartisan War Party, which has used the manufactured crisis to drench the nation in anti-Russian hysteria – worse than back in the bad old days of the Red Scares. By March, Black Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) was using much the same language as Dick Cheney to describe the Kremlin. “I think this attack that we’ve experienced is a form of war, a form of war on our fundamental democratic principles,” said the hopelessly brainwashed representative of the Black Misleadership Class. “Liberal” Democratic Maryland Rep. Ben Cardin called the nonexistent “attack” a “political Pearl Harbor.”

If the U.S. Congress actually took seriously its Constitutional powers to declare war, the human race would already have been exterminated.

So insane have the Democrats become, that we are probably better off with war powers effectively in the hands of Donald Trump, than with California’s Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress that voted against the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. She was in her “right mind” then, but no longer. Trump’s willingness to talk with the leader of Russia, in Hamburg, infuriated Rep. Lee, who tweeted: “Outraged by President Trump’s 2 hr meeting w/Putin, the man who orchestrated attacks on our democracy. Where do his loyalties lie?” A better question is: When and where did Lee join the War Party?
I do have a concern, which I've also expressed here repeatedly, that bad actors and people who advocate unnecessarily warlike policies toward Russia are trying to piggyback their policy recommendations on the outrage over the Trump-Russia scandal.

It's hyperbole to say that Congress would have insisted on full-blown nuclear war, which I assume is more-or-less the meaning of Ford's "the human race would already have been exterminated." But it is important to remember that Congress taking its Constitutional war powers seriously wouldn't inevitably result in less warlike policies than Congress' current passivity in the face of Executive power on war and peace. But it is Congress' job, and they should take it seriously. And it would certainly allow more opportunity to air a broader spectrum of opinion and bring more expert opinion to the attention of the public. Until the robots take over or the zombie apocalypse descends on us, the Members of Congress will still human beings. So there is no guarantee of decisions that are invariably right or optimal.

I'm with Ford in wishing the Democrats would stop calling the 2016 hacking an act of war. I think it's the kind of threat inflation that has done so much damage in American foreign policy since the Second World War.

But I'll stick up for my Representative Barbara Lee on this one. Her formulation "attack on our democracy" is an accurate description of the hacking the FBI, the CIA and the FBI say occurred. And we certainly are at the stage in the Trump-Russia scandal, the question of where Trump's loyalties lie is unfortunately a valid one.

Here the nature of McCarthyism as we know it is also relevant. When cheerleaders for the Iraq War called Barbara Lee and other opponents of the Iraq War sympathizers of Saddam Hussein, that was just sleazy. And sleazy in the same way McCarthyism was sleazy.

It's also worth noting that the Iraq War was justified by cooked intelligence that was concocted by the Cheney-Bush Administration who didn't trust the CIA to provide the recommendations they wanted to see. That process has been extensively reported and documented. Jason Vest and Bob Dreyfuss, for instance, reported on The Lie Factory (Mother Jones Jan/Feb 2004) that cooked the intelligence. Based on what's now in the public record, the cooking of intelligence in this case does not compare to the deception of the Cheney-Bush team on the Iraq War. But we still need Congressional and/or independent investigations to confirm the facts on the Trump-Russia scandal. And not just on the hacking but on the larger question of collusion.

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