Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday in the Trump-Russia scandal

I've been saying since the 2016 election that it would be nearly impossible to determine that the Russian intervention was decisive in throwing the election to Trump, short of finding direct manipulation of voting machines or Russians doing get-out-the-vote operations in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. With one possible exception, I haven't seen anything yet to change my mind on that, even with today's indictments in the Trump-Russia case.

Even hardcore Hillary loyalists can't settle on whether Valdimir Putin, Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, or James Comey is most responsible for Trump's win. I'm sticking with James Comey, myself.

Whether the Trump people get nailed legally on actually conspiring with Russians on election activities remains to be seen. Although it's looking more likely all the time. As much trouble as major Trump players have taken to conceal contact with Russian players, it's hard to believe that they're not trying to hide some underlying bad acts. But I would still guess that the biggest scandal will turn out to be corrupt business dealings with Russian companies and oligarchs and mobsters of various sorts.

And I would say the most serious hits to American democracy have come from all-American players, notably the massive voter-suppression efforts that the Republicans have been running all over the country. Nobody suspects Putin of rigging the Florida election results in 2000. But the damage that Kathleen Harris and Jeb Bush did in that operation is well known and the consequences for democracy in the US were enormous.

Marcy Wheeler is still on the case, too. Like her take Rick Gates possibly flipping for the Special Counsel, The Gates Flip and the 404(b) Delay Emptywheel 02/15/2018.

James Risen is doing a series of articles for The Intercept on the Trump-Russia case, starting with the provocatively titled Is Donald Trump a Traitor? 02/16/2018. James Risen doesn't exactly have a reputation as a stenographer to the powerful and The Intercept can't be reasonably accused of lacking in critical skepticism on the Trump-Russia allegations. He writes:
Most pundits in Washington now recoil at any suggestion that the Trump-Russia story is really about treason. They all want to say it’s about something else – what, they aren’t quite sure. They are afraid to use serious words. They are in the business of breaking down the Trump-Russia narrative into a long series of bite-sized, incremental stories in which the gravity of the overall case often gets lost. They seem to think that treason is too much of a conversation-stopper, that it interrupts the flow of cable television and Twitter. God forbid you might upset the right wing! (And the left wing, for that matter.)
This initial article in the series gives a useful recap of the state of the scandal based on what's currently in the public record. He updated it with a reference to Friday's indictments:
In fact, evidence of the connections between Trump’s bid for the White House and Russian ambitions to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election keeps piling up. Throughout late 2016 and early 2017, a series of reports from the U.S. intelligence community and other government agencies underlined and reinforced nearly every element of the Russian hacking narrative, including the Russian preference for Trump. The reports were notable in part because their findings exposed the agencies to criticism from Trump and his supporters and put them at odds with Trump’s public dismissals of reported Russian attempts to help him get elected, which he has called “fake news.”

In addition, a series of details has emerged through unofficial channels that seems to corroborate these authorized assessments. A classified NSA document obtained by The Intercept last year states that Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, played a role in the Russian hack of the 2016 American election. In August, a Russian hacker confessed to hacking the Democratic National Committee under the supervision of an officer in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, who has separately been accused of spying for the U.S. And Dutch intelligence service AIVD has reportedly given the FBI significant inside information about the Russian hack of the Democratic Party.

On February 16, just hours after this column was published, the special counsel announced indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian entities for meddling in the U.S. election. The special counsel accused them of intervening to help Trump and damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. The indictments mark the first time Mueller has brought charges against any Russians in his ongoing probe.

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