Except they didn’t. And all you liberals out there need to get over it, says Rian Malan
In August 16, according to The Washington Post, a car with tinted windows arrived at the White House carrying an envelope containing something so sensitive that only President Barack Obama and three aides were allowed to see it. It was a letter from the CIA revealing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “direct involvement” in a plot “to defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.”
Drawn “from sources deep inside the Kremlin,” this “intelligence bombshell” exposed the existence in Moscow of armies of hackers and cyber-warriors, all working to disrupt American institutions and bend American minds in unhealthy directions. According to the Post, Obama’s response was “grave”. He ordered further investigation, and soon convoys of black SUVs were screaming across the American capital, carrying intelligence mandarins to meetings in cyber-sealed ops rooms impenetrable to fiendishly ingenious Russian eavesdropping techniques.
Sadly, this secret task force was unable to catch the cunning Russians actually at it, which left America’s intelligence chiefs in a quandary; some believed the CIA story, others didn’t. According to The Post, there was a similar split among senior politicians who’d been briefed on the subject; Democrats wanted the “intelligence bombshell” dropped immediately, while Republicans suspected a ploy to damage Trump’s campaign. In the end, all that emerged in public was a brief statement declaring that “the US intelligence community is confident” that the Russian government was behind a recent cyber attack on Democratic Party headquarters.
On an ordinary day, this might have made headlines, but the statement was almost immediately eclipsed by the emergence of a video in which The Donald boasted of grabbing female strangers by their pudenda.
After that, the Russian stuff barely mattered. I mean, Trump was already deplorable, and now he was totally beyond the pale. He lived in a vulgar gold-plated apartment, owned a beauty pageant, told self-aggrandising lies about his business prowess and often skated on thin ice tax-wise. His ghost writer disclosed that he had the attention-span of an eight-year-old and no interest in anything but himself. And atop all that came the damning pussy-grabbing video. Clearly, such a man would never become president of the USA.
Only he did.
On election eve, I offered someone 20-1 odds in Hillary’s favour, an error that cost me R2,000 and forced me to admit that I was just another snobbish elitist, blind to the grievances of the white American working class. Most American liberals and their newspapers seized on a different explanation: it was evil Russians who’d robbed Hillary of certain victory by engaging in acts of the sort alleged in the CIA’s top-secret letter. Before Trump even entered the White House, FBI agents and investigative journalists were swarming all over him and his known associates, hunting proof of his collaboration with Russia while Trump shouted bullshit, this is all a hoax, I am the victim of a partisan witch-hunt.
This furor climaxed the other day with the release of The Memo, a summary of previously classified info gathered over the past year by the Republican-dominated House Intelligence Committee. Democrats on the same committee strongly objected to The Memo’s contents and threatened to release a memo of their own, but I doubt they’ll be able to overturn the only truly important claim made in the Republican version, of which more later. At this point, let’s just say that The Memo contained something that caused me to turn to an old friend and say, “Well, that’s it. Trump is going to win this one”.
She stiffened and said, “Oh, so you’re a Trump supporter now.” As we know, this is the kiss of death in polite society, but so what? We must call it as we see it, and I believe there is no evidence anywhere to support the claim that The Donald actively colluded with Russians in a master-plan to take control of America. And now I will tell you why.
Founded by ex-journalists, Fusion GPS is an “opposition research” firm based in Washington DC, where it acts as a hired gun for corporations or politicians seeking an edge on their rivals. In 2015, Fusion was hired by a conservative newspaper to dig up dirt on Trump and knock him out of the Republican primaries. Fusion concentrated on Trump’s business dealings, which often smelled odd but were not, on closer examination, smoking-gun illegal. Trump survived and went on to become the GOP’s presidential candidate.
This was of course good news for Hillary Clinton, darling of the American liberal establishment, blessed with an $800-million campaign war chest and now, a buffoonish Republican opponent who shot his own foot off every second day. With Trump as its candidate, the Republican Party was doomed. There was no question that Hillary would crush Donald in the November election – provided she was first able to clear one embarrassing little hurdle.
Behind the scenes, Hillary and her friends at the Democratic National Committee, which runs Democratic Party machine, had been conspiring to sabotage a challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders, a very lonely Yankee socialist. Bernie’s angry speeches were turning the youth against Hillary, and that would not do, so Hillary’s friends at DNC ridiculed him in private emails to donors, and for a while, denied him access to party funding.
One dark night in April 2016, nearly 30,000 potentially embarrassing emails were somehow siphoned out of DNC’s computers. Some believe the data was loaded onto a thumb drive and carried out the door by a Bernie supporter, but the DNC’s IT specialists maintained it had been hacked, possibly by Russians. And now those emails were lurking out there, waiting to fall on Hillary’s head.
Under the circumstances, it was clearly in Team Hillary’s interests to shore up the Russian hacking narrative. Perhaps with this in mind, Team Hillary turned for assistance to Fusion GPS, the aforementioned “opposition research” firm. At the time, Fusion was working with Russian oligarchs to lift US sanctions on Putin and his closest allies. Now Team Hillary was asking it to work against the interests of that same clique. But there are no virgins in American politics, so Fusion accepted the DNC commission and set to work.
Its chosen instrument was Christopher Steele, a dashing British ex-spy, now peddling his skills on the open market. A former head of MI6’s Russia desk, Steele had friends who claimed to have access to people in Putin’s inner circle. In May, 2016, he started pulsing those friends for dirt on Donald Trump. They took Steele’s bait (and money) and in June 2016, he delivered his first report to his employers. It revealed that Putin had been “cultivating and assisting Trump for at least five years,” and that Russian spies were holding material that could be used to blackmail The Donald if he ever became president. This took the form, inter alia, of spy videos of hookers urinating on Trump in a Moscow hotel room.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Washington, romance was brewing between Peter Strzok, head of the FBI’s counter-espionage division, and Lisa Page, a senior FBI lawyer. Around this time, the two lovebirds began to share their innermost thoughts via text messages, somehow forgetting these would all be stored in government archives and become public a year later. One sms exchange took place just after Strzok and Page left a Trump-related meeting in the office of FBI deputy director Andy McCabe. Lisa had taken the position that The Donald was unelectable, and that her colleagues should stop worrying. Peter said, “I want to believe you, but I’m afraid there’s no way we can take that risk”. In Strzok’s view, America needed some sort of “insurance policy” to make sure Trump never became president.
Why did these mandarins care? Clearly, they did not like Trump, but it was also smart for ambitious civil servants to make themselves useful to the likely winner of a presidential election, as some of their bosses had already done. A few weeks earlier, those bosses had applied to the ultra-classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant to spy on four members of the Trump campaign. We don’t know what evidence they presented, but it must have been flimsy, because the judge decided that such surveillance was unjustified.
Clearly, the anti-Trump forces needed to develop their Russia collusion case before returning to the surveillance court to try again. Perverse cavortings in a Moscow hotel room were all very well, but they needed something stronger, something that smacked of treason. And lo, Steele was able to deliver it.
His second report to Fusion was dated July 19, and it was a real doozy. This time, the dashing spy was able to reveal that Putin was personally driving the plot to defeat Hillary and that Trump was an enthusiastic partner in his scheme. Steele’s sources also put an end to speculation about who stole those embarrassing Bernie emails, confirming that it was indeed the Russians and claiming they’d done so with the “full support and knowledge” of Trump and his team.
A key figure in this “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” was Carter Page, a Trump campaign volunteer who’d supposedly held secret meetings with powerful Kremlin insiders during a recent visit to Moscow. This was dynamite! Precisely the stuff to blow Trump completely out of the water.
Steele’s “evidence” seems to have been put into play quite extensively in the next several weeks. The FBI began to prepare a second spy-court application, this time resting on Steele’s revelations. Judging from The Washington Post’s description, Steele’s reports also made their way into the top-secret CIA letter that landed on Obama’s desk at the start of this story.
Obama, as we’ve seen, commissioned an investigation, and Steele did his bit, sharing his research with the FBI and coming to America for cloak-and-dagger meetings with sympathetic reporters. He and Fusion were hoping the New York Times would pick up their story, but that illustrious rag (and several others) smelled a rat, so they had to settle for Mother Jones, and Yahoo News, whose reports failed to attract much attention. Why? Because everyone knew that Hillary couldn’t lose anyway.
Only she did, eight days later.
After that, all hell broke loose. President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats on the grounds that they were somehow to blame for his party’s humiliation. (This action was justified by the release of the intelligence report discussed below.)
A week or two later, Steele’s Trump dossier was leaked to the media, thereby exposing the president-elect’s alleged misdeeds for all to see. Trump said, “fake news,” as he always does, but the reaction of his alleged co-conspirators was not entirely as expected. Carter Page, the supposed go-between between Trump and the Kremlin, presented a picture of injured innocence, sitting down with any journalist who was willing to listen while he refuted Steele’s charges as rubbish. He said he went to Moscow to deliver a speech at some university, and had no connection at all with the sinister Russians he supposedly met there. He even begged Congress to interrogate him in public so he could clear his name.
This proves nothing in particular, but by then, Page had already been subjected to intense FBI scrutiny and come up clean. There was a similar outcome in the case of Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, alleged by Steele to have attended secret meetings with Putin operatives in Prague. Cohen was able to prove he had never been there or done that. A third alleged conspirator, a Russian alleged to have participated in intelligence hacks, sued Steele for libel. Forced to respond, Steele explained that his dossier consisted of bits of “raw” and “unverified” gossip never intended for public consumption. Seems odd that Steele didn’t mention this while he was briefing news organisations in the run-up to the election, hoping they’d use his material on their front pages.
Which brings us back to the aforementioned House Intelligence Committee memo and its single significant revelation. Republicans on that committee believed from the start that there was something fishy about the FISA warrant (finally granted in October 2016) that allowed the FBI to spy on Trump’s operation. American judges don’t lightly obliterate a fellow citizen’s constitutional right to privacy, especially if that citizen is involved in a presidential election campaign. Did they use Steele’s dossier?
This was an extremely awkward question for the Democratic Party, which tried desperately to keep its relationship with Steele secret. But the Republicans kept chipping away, and finally got an answer last December: Steele and his employers at Fusion GPS were ultimately paid by Team Hillary, which degraded his dossier into just another cheap electioneering trick.
That being the case, how did the FBI manage to get a FISA surveillance warrant? As it turns out, by deceit. If those mandarins had told the secret court that their evidence of treasonous activity in Team Trump was based mostly on information provided by Team Clinton, they would have been laughed at. So they didn’t.
Or as The Memo phrased it, “Neither the FBI’s initial application in October 2016, nor any of the (three subsequent) renewals, disclose the role of the DNC and the Clinton campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior Department of Justice and FBI officials.”
Those are the words that caused me to say, “Well, that’s it. Trump is going to win this one”. In the ensuing week, Democrats flooded the media with a counter-narrative claiming that the FBI had indeed disclosed all the relevant facts. Really? Yes, the FBI’s spy court applications did mention – in a footnote – that Steele was paid by an unnamed law firm, using an unnamed “US person” as a cut-out. But that’s just not the same as saying, “Steele was funded by the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign”.
So the basic facts are now more or less clear: senior mandarins in America’s intelligence community bent the rules in their eagerness to sabotage Trump’s candidacy.
That hope is fading, I fear. It is common cause in the American media that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has failed to unearth any proof of collusion, and is now trying to nail Trump for obstructing FBI attempts to investigate glancing encounters with Russians that fell short of breaking the law.
As I write, for instance, liberal newspapers are raising a hue and cry about Trump’s attempts to conceal the truth about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya. Their stories are generally accurate, but in their eagerness to demonise Trump, they are as usual ignoring or underplaying the juicy bits.
Here’s what we know: on June 9, 2016, Veselnitskaya visited Trump Tower to deliver what the New York Times calls “damaging information” on Hillary Clinton. The Trump organisation says nothing came of this meeting, but when word of it leaked out, Trump Sr tried to invent a cover story that made it sound completely innocent, which it wasn’t. Intercepted emails proved that Trump Jr was told Veselnitskaya was coming to dish dirt on Hillary, to which he responded, yes please.
But if you pull the camera back, some fascinating new elements emerge. On her way to Trump Tower, Veselnitskaya was spotted at a federal courthouse in the company of Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS, who was at that moment deeply engaged in his company’s campaign to nail Trump on behalf of Team Hillary. Accompanying them was a flamboyant Russian-American named Rinat Akhmetshin, widely suspected of being a Russian spy. The Russians and Simpson were engaged in a joint campaign to free Putin and his cronies of sanctions that restrict their ability to travel or bank in the United States.
After the courthouse meeting, Akhmetshin escorted Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower for her fateful meeting with Donald Jr. And when it was done, they all went out to dinner with Fusion’s Glenn Simpson. (Again! It was their second dinner in three days.)
Simpson says he had no idea what his Russian chums were up to. I say, aw, c’mon. Team Hillary was secretly paying Simpson to prove that Trump was colluding with Putin. And there he was, slamming back the vodka with a real Putin insider and a suspected Russian spy who’d just done exactly that – or at least attempted it – under his very nose.
If I were Robert Mueller, I’d be asking the obvious question: was the Russians’ visit to Trump Tower encouraged or arranged by Simpson? If so, the Trump/Russia scandal is heading towards an unexpected conclusion: if anyone collaborated with Russians to alter the outcome of the 2016 election, the most likely culprits were Steele and Simpson, paid agents of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
In closing, a word of advice for Donald Trump’s fanatical enemies. Eighteen months of sturm und drang about Russia’s alleged rigging of the Clinton/Trump race has come to almost nothing. The candidates jointly spent more than $1.5 billion on their campaigns. A now-famous Putin-related “troll farm” in St Petersburg [see below] spent .003% of that on Facebook ads, and if these succeeded in swaying a single voter, that person has yet to raise her hand. Ominous predictions of large-scale tampering with voter databases and counting machines failed to materialise.
The US government insists that Russians hacked the embarrassing Bernie emails, so that could be true, for all I know. But epic investigations have failed to sustain the central charge that Trump and Putin were in it together.
Let it go now, okay? Hillary lost because some people didn’t like or trust her. Trump won because some Americans are angry and tired of PC blandishments. If it consoles you, you’re free to say that Trump won because he represents the real, ugly face of America. Just stop blaming the Russians.
A Kremlin-backed group known as the Internet Research Agency is the root cause of all the stories you've read about sinister Russians using Facebook to brainwash America.
IRA spent $46,000 on Facebook ads during the Clinton/Trump campaign, a drop in the ocean alongside the $81 million the two candidates spent on digital media. But the US government says it helped Trump anyway, so this must be true. Here are some of the memes IRA posted - you be the judge.
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