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As others have pointed out, June has been a cruel month for believers in Russiagate. I had previously expressed the view that it would collapse in early summer, ie. around now. Whilst that has turned out to be over-optimistic, the scandal is certainly sagging, what with the revelations from within CNN about the cynicism with which the scandal is being seen there.
I would add in passing that in Britain CNN revelations have been entirely unreported.
In any event, since the scandal looks to be sagging, and may be in the early stages of collapse, this seems to me a good moment to give a comprehensive overview of all the various claims which have made over the course of the scandal, and to see how they stack up. I will therefore deal here with them all, concentrating initially on the three which are by far the most important.
(1) The Russians hacked the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers and stole the emails they found there
This is the original, central claim in the Russiagate scandal. Every other claim which has been made by its believers stems from it. Should it ever be proved to be untrue then all the theories which have abounded during the scandal, and all the claims of Russian meddling in the US Presidential election and of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, will collapse.
Not surprisingly believers in the scandal therefore insist on the truth of this claim. To deny it, or to express skepticism about it, is to open oneself up to charges of being a Kremlin stooge or a Putin apologist or – worse still – an agent of the Russian government. Unsurprisingly no political figure in the US is prepared to risk that, with even Donald Trump – the only politician in the US who has ever publicly expressed doubts about this claim – saying nonetheless that he still “believes” it.
In reality the evidence for Russian hacking of the DNC’s and of John Podesta’s computers is extremely thin.
No agency of the US government has examined these computers. The only examination of the computers which has taken place, and the only investigation of the hacking allegation which has been carried out, has been the work of a private company – CrowdStrike – whose opinions the relevant US government agencies have simply accepted as true.
I have never come across such a situation before, where a police agency bases its conclusions not on its own investigations but entirely on the opinions of a private detective agency.
In this case what is even more troubling is that the DNC and John Podesta apparently specifically denied the relevant US investigative agency – the FBI – access to their computers. Moreover they were also CrowdStrike’s clients, whilst it seems that CrowdStrike’s owner Dmitri Alperovitch is a known Hillary Clinton supporter and a strong opponent of President Putin of Russia and his government. Given the obvious possibility of bias, that ought to have made the FBI even more careful before accepting CrowdStrike’s opinions as true.
In the event there has been strong criticism of CrowdStrike’s whole approach and methodology from within the IT community, with people like Jeffrey Carr and John McAfee ridiculing the way it has come to its conclusions.
I am not an IT specialist and I am not therefore in a position to comment or second guess this criticism. However essentially it boils down to (1) doubts that the two malware vehicles supposedly used to carry out the hacks – Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear – really have a connection to Russia (apparently they both originate in Ukraine); (2) claims that this malware has been around for a long time and is therefore available for use by any hacker, with no reason to connect its use to Russia; and (3) claims that it is anyway supremely easy for a hacker possessing even the most rudimentary skills to create a false trail purportedly linking Russia to the hack, so that no conclusions can be drawn from the appearance of such a trail in the DNC and John Podesta case.
To these claims I would add two points which I have myself made previously, which are
(1) that the assumption of a Russian connection to the hacks appears to rest heavily on the belief that the self-proclaimed hacker who calls himself “Guccifer 2.0” is not only Russian but is a front for Russian intelligence. However there is no evidence other than Guccifer 2.0’s own claims that directly links Guccifer 2.0 to the DNC and Podesta hacks, and the theory that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for Russian intelligence appears to me to depend far too much on the fact that he at some point referred to himself in computer language as “Felix Edmundovitch” – the first name and patronymic of F.E. Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, Soviet Russia’s first security agency – which is actually so wildly improbable if he were really fronting for Russian intelligence, then that in reality almost certainly proves that the claim that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for Russian intelligence cannot be true; and
(2) that everything that is actually known about Russian intelligence suggests that its methods are far more sophisticated than those allegedly used to carry out the DNC and Podesta hacks. The crude methods used to carry out these hacks, using old malware apparently created in Ukraine more than a decade ago, point if anything to the hacks being carried out by someone else, most probably by private individuals.
Recently a further point has been made about the claim that it was the Russians who hacked the computers of John Podesta and the DNC. This point has been made by Daniel Lazare writing for Consortium News, and is a p0int which had never occurred to me, and which so far as I know no-one has made before.
This is that ultimately we only have the word of Hillary Clinton, the DNC, John Podesta and their paid contractor CrowdStrike that a hack took place at all. Since the DNC and John Podesta refused to allow the FBI to examine their computers, the FBI cannot itself verify that there was in fact such a hack.
This is a point of some importance, so I will set out Daniel Lazare’s comments on this point in full
….the problems with Russia-gate date back to the beginning. Where Watergate was about a real burglary, this one began with a cyber break-in that may or may not have occurred. In his June 8 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey conceded that the FBI never checked the DNC’s servers to confirm that they had truly been hacked.
COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN RICHARD BURR: Did you ever have access to the actual hardware that was hacked? Or did you have to rely on a third party to provide you the data that they had collected?
COMEY: In the case of the DNC, and, I believe, the DCCC [i.e. the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee], but I’m sure the DNC, we did not have access to the devices themselves. We got relevant forensic information from a private party, a high-class entity, that had done the work. But we didn’t get direct access.
BURR: But no content?
BURR: Isn’t content an important part of the forensics from a counterintelligence standpoint?
COMEY: It is, although what was briefed to me by my folks — the people who were my folks at the time – is that they had gotten the information from the private party that they needed to understand the intrusion by the spring of 2016.
The FBI apparently was confident that it could rely on such “a high-class entity” as CrowdStrike to tell it what it needed to know. Yet neither the Democratic National Committee nor CrowdStrike, the Irvine, California, cyber-security firm the DNC hired, was remotely objective.
Hillary Clinton was on record calling Putin a “bully” whose goal was “to stymie, to confront, to undermine American power” while Dmitri Aperovitch, CrowdStrike’s chief technical officer, is a Russian émigré who is both anti-Putin personally and an associate of the Atlantic Council, a pro-Clinton/anti-Russian think tank that is funded by the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and the Ukrainian World Congress. The Atlantic Council is one of the most anti-Russian voices in Washington.
So, an anti-Putin DNC hired an anti-Putin security specialist, who, to absolutely no one’s surprise, “immediately” determined that the break-in was the work of hackers “closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.”
Comey’s trust in CrowdStrike was akin to cops trusting a private eye not only to investigate a murder, but to determine if it even occurred. Yet the mainstream media’s pack journalists saw no reason to question the FBI because doing so would not accord with an anti-Trump bias so pronounced that even journalism profs have begun to notice.
(bold italics added)
This is a blindingly obvious point, and I am astonished with myself for never having previously thought of it. Daniel Lazare is to be commended for being so far as I know the first to see it.
In summary, not only is the evidence that the Russians hacked the computers of John Podesta and the DNC extremely thin and, such as it is, fiercely contested, but it is dangerously dependent on the opinions of a paid private contractor with a known political bias who is the paid contractor of the persons – the DNC and John Podesta – whose computers are alleged to have been hacked.
Moreover, in view of the failure of the US’s own investigative agencies to examine the actual evidence, there can be no certainty that the hacking of the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers as alleged even took place, much less that the Russians were responsible for it.
In summary, the evidence for claim (1) is thin and fiercely contested, and whilst it would be wrong to say that there is no evidence for claim (1) at all, it is doubtful that such evidence as there is would satisfy a court, so that no great weight should be placed upon it.
(2) The Russians provided the emails they stole from the DNC and John Podesta to Wikileaks which published them on their behalf
Before discussing this claim, it is necessary to make two points.
Firstly, this claim depends wholly on claim (1), that the Russians hacked the computers of John Podesta and the DNC and stole the emails from them. If claim (1) is untrue – and as we have seen the evidence supporting claim (1) is extremely thin and fiercely contested – then claim (2) cannot be true.
It is a feature of conspiracy theories (which should not be confused with theories about possible conspiracies) that those who peddle them make a guess on one point, and then build upon that guess yet another guess which is drawn from and has its starting point in the first guess. The result is an often outwardly impressive but in reality rickety structure susceptible to collapse at every point. Russiagate is a classic illustration of this.
Secondly, even if claim (1) is true, it does not follow that claim (2) is true. Conceivably the Russians might have hacked the computers of John Podesta and the DNC and might have stolen emails from there. However that does not prove that it was they who provided the emails which were published by Wikileaks.
It is a fundamental error to treat evidence for claim (1) as evidence for claim (2). In order to be sure that claim (2) is true there has to be actual evidence of contact between the Russians and Wikileaks, and in particular actual evidence that it was the Russians who provided the emails to Wikileaks.
We know that this evidence does not exist. The reason we know this is because former FBI Director James Comey, the person who was in overall charge of the Russiagate investigation until just a few weeks ago, has told us as much.
SCHIFF: Are you aware that Mr. Stone also stated publicly that he was in direct communication with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?COMEY: Same answer.
SCHIFF: Are you aware that Mr. Stone also claimed that he was in touch with an intermediary of Mr. Assange?
COMEY: Same answer.
SCHIFF: This is a question I think you can answer. Do you know whether the Russian intelligence service has dealt directly with WikiLeaks or whether they too used an intermediary?
COMEY: We assessed they used some kind of cutout. They didn’t deal directly with WikiLeaks. In contrast to D.C. Leaks and Guccifer 2.0.
SCHIFF: In early October, are you aware that Mr. Stone tweeted I have total confidence that my hero, Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. Are you aware of that tweet?
COMEY: I’m back to my original same answer.
SCHIFF: And are you aware that it was only days later that WikiLeaks released the Podesta e-mails?
COMEY: Same answer.
(bold italics added)
Comey’s words confirm that Russian intelligence was not in contact with Wikileaks and could not therefore have directly given the emails to Wikileaks.
Though it is clear from Comey’s words that neither he nor the FBI know who did give the emails to Wikileaks, he assumes – because he believes or says he believes this was done by the Russians – that this was done through cutouts.
Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and ambassador Craig Murray – the latter by his own admission the contact between Wikileaks and the person or persons who actually provided the emails to Wikileaks – deny that the emails were provided to Wikileaks by the Russians. They say the emails were the result of leaks not hacks, and have hinted that the persons who provided them with the emails were disillusioned DNC staffers angered by the DNC’s bias in favour of Hillary Clinton and its ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against Bernie Sanders.
Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Craig Murray – whatever other views one has about them – are experienced people and consistent truth-tellers about their work. They are not naive people, and in Craig Murray’s case he is a former senior diplomat accustomed to working with intelligence agencies and who knows how they work.
There is no evidence that the people Wikileaks and Craig Murray dealt with were cutouts. Comey’s words show that the US does not know their identities (“we assessed – ie. guessed – that they were some kind of cutout”), and the theory these people were cutouts is therefore no more than a guess.
On the face of it it is highly unlikely that Julian Assange, Wikileaks or Craig Murray would have been deceived by cutouts, and since it is no more than a guess that the people who gave them the emails were cutouts, that theory can be discounted.
Independently of claim (1) there is therefore no evidence to support claim (2). Russian intelligence did not directly provide the stolen emails to Wikileaks. There is no evidence the people who did provide the emails to Wikileaks were cutouts, and it is in fact highly unlikely that they were.
(3) Wikileaks’ publication of the stolen emails was coordinated by the Russians and the Trump campaign
This is the central claim made in the Russiagate scandal, and is the primary focus of the Russiagate investigation previously carried out by the FBI and now carried out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Once again before looking at the evidence for this claim it is necessary to make two points, which are essentially the same points as those made in respect of claim (2).
Firstly, for claim (3) to be true claims (1) and (2) must also be true. If the Russians did not hack the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers, and if they did not provide the emails to Wikileaks, then they could not have coordinated the publication of the emails with the Trump campaign.
In fact, as we have seen, the evidence for claim (1) is thin and fiercely contested, and the evidence for claim (2) is non-existent, with claim (2) depending purely on what is no more than an almost certainly wrong guess.
Secondly, even if claims (1) and (2) are true, it does not follow that claim (3) is true, and such ‘evidence’ as is provided to ‘prove’ claims (1) and (2) is not evidence proving claim (3).
Conceivably the Russians might have hacked John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers, and might through cutouts have provided the stolen emails to Wikileaks, without there being any collusion or cooperation between them and the Trump campaign.
Just as claim (2) must be proved independently of claim (1), so claim (3) must be proved independently of claims (1) and (2).
It is now clear that the entirety of the ‘evidence’ for claim (3) is the Trump Dossier.
I have previously explained why the account of the Russian decision making process set out in the Trump Dossier is totally absurd, and why this means that the account given in the Trump Dossier must be ultimately a fiction.
Over and above this back in April The Russia Explainer did a comprehensive fact-check of every claim and allegation made in the Trump Dossier in a way that I have neither the time nor the knowledge to do.
The Russian Examiner found that those claims in the Trump Dossier which can be shown to be true were with one exception (see below) invariably reported earlier either by the Russian media or by the Western media, or derive from information already in the public domain. Moreover there are errors and misunderstandings in the Trump Dossier such as might be expected of a report sourced largely from the internet.
Here is just one example, relating to certain claims in the Trump Dossier about the activities of Carter Page, who is a central character in the Trump Dossier, just as he has become a central figure (perhaps even the central figure) in the Russiagate investigation
There’s a verifiable factual error in this paragraph. It’s a very subtle one, but it’s there. It says the meeting “took place on either 7 or 8 July, the same day or the one after Carter Page made a public speech to the Higher Economic School in Moscow.”
So reading that, it’s clear that Page made his speech to the Higher Economic School on July 7, and then July 8 was the day after, right?
No. For two reasons. First, Page was invited to Russia by the New Economic School, not the Higher School of Economics. They’re two different universities, and whichever one Steele was trying to refer to, he got the name wrong.
Secondly, Page gave speeches to the New Economic School on both July 7 and July 8. July 7 was a lecture called “The Evolution of the World Economy: Trends and Potential,” and July 8 was a commencement speech at the New Economic School’s graduation, where Carter Page’s speech was called “How to Increase Your Potential in Unstable Times.” According to journalists in attendance, the speeches sucked.
To make things more confusing, in 2014 Carter Page had been a guest lecturer at the Higher School of Economics. He gave a joint lecture on Feb. 27, 2014 with the two themes “Cooperative Approaches to the Political and Economic Development of Iraq” and “Measuring Preferential Polarization: Theory and Application,” together with his co-lecturer Ozdemir Ugur, a Turkish scholar who is currently a lecturer in quantitative political science at Edinburgh University.
I would add that confusion between Moscow’s New Economic School and Moscow’s Higher School of Economics is one which is very commonly made outside Russia, especially as both institutions were established the same year (1992). Both incidentally are widely seen in Russia as pro-Western liberal institutions, not at all the sort of places where someone alleged to be colluding with Russian intelligence to influence the outcome of a US Presidential election would be expected to give an anti-American speech.
However the most devastating point made by The Russia Explainer about the Trump Dossier is surely this one
A lot of the people who believe in the Steele dossier without corroboration (or hope against hope that it proves to be true) look at the points of intersection between stories in the media and the dossier’s reports as evidence of the truth of the dossier. I don’t see how the fact that the dossier includes information that had already been reported makes the dossier any more credible. If anything it hints at the likely method for preparing the “verified” parts of the dossier: Internet research by sources whose main qualification was that they could search in Russian.
If someone can show me anything in the Steele dossier that was reported in the media after the date of the Steele report in which it is mentioned, that’s something that should be seriously checked out. But if the media scooped Steele and he’s just reporting something that was already in the public domain, that’s really not impressive at all from an intelligence perspective.
(bold italics in the original)
As it happens The Russia Explainer has answered its own question by going through the Trump Dossier with a fine tooth-comb and has found nothing “in the Steele dossier that was reported in the media after the date of the Steele report in which it is mentioned” with the single exception of one story, for whose presence in the Trump Dossier The Russia Explainer however provides a complete and fully satisfactory explanation
The report on the Alfa Group (yes, Steele spelled it wrong) is actually the only place in the whole dossier where the dossier was ahead of the mainstream news cycle. The report doesn’t give any context for why a special report on the relationship between Putin and Alfa was requested. But on Halloween 2016, the story broke that in Spring and Summer 2016, white-hat hackers had been tracking electronic communications between Trump’s e-mail server and an Alfa-Bank (part of Alfa Group) computer in Russia, posting their findings on Reddit – so it was in the public domain but you really had to be paying attention (as apparently a few New York Times journalists and probably the FBI were). I doubt that Steele or his sources were following hacker forums on Reddit.
So here’s what I think happened: by September, Steele’s ultimate client was the Democrats. Someone tipped off the Hillary Clinton campaign (and/or the Clinton-aligned group that was paying Fusion GPS / Orbis) about the electronic link to Alfa, and then Orbis (Steele) got a call asking for an intelligence report on Alfa Group’s connections to Putin, without saying why. However, since it was on the phone, the Orbis person heard it as “Alpha Group,” and their Russian sources didn’t correct the error.
As to the other claims made by the Trump Dossier, where verification is either impossible or very difficult, The Russia Examiner makes essentially the same as point as the one made by me, that the descriptions of high level meetings and secret discussions within the Russian government look to anyone with a genuine knowledge of Russia unlikely and fanciful, and simply don’t ring true.
However we can now go beyond these obvious doubts about the Trump Dossier and consider what US investigators themselves tell us.
As US officials and former officials in the know confirm – and we have now heard this said publicly by Comey, Clapper, Brennan, Nunes and Feinstein – despite 11 months of investigation bringing together the combined resources of the entire US intelligence and law enforcement community no evidence of collusion between Russian intelligence and any individual involved in the Trump campaign has come to light.
Every so often even the mainstream media admits as much. Possibly the most plaintive such admission was one made at the end of March by the BBC
Trump’s supporters are entitled to ask why – with the FBI’s powers to subpoena witnesses and threaten charges of obstructing justice – nothing damning has emerged.
Perhaps there is nothing to find. But some former senior officials say it is because of failings in the inquiry, of which more later…..
[one] reflected growing frustration with the inquiry among some who served in the Obama administration: “We used to call them the Feebs. They would make the simple cases, but never see, let alone understand and go after, the bigger picture.”
Before ending this discussion of claim (3), it is worth making one final point about the Trump Dossier.
The earliest entry in the Trump Dossier is dated 20th June 2016. This is eight days after Julian Assange first discussed Wikileaks’s pending publication of information about Hillary Clinton in a British ITV interview on 12th June 2016. At the time that the first entry of the Trump Dossier was written there was therefore evidence in the public domain that information damaging to Hillary Clinton was about to be published.
The first entry in the Trump Dossier duly says that damaging information about Hillary Clinton is being fed to the Trump campaign by the Russians. However importantly the first entry in the Trump Dossier does not say that the Russians would help the Trump campaign by providing the Trump campaign with information about Hillary Clinton that they had obtained through cyber attacks. Instead it says the Russians would help the Trump campaign by feeding it with information they had obtained about Hillary Clinton which they had collected in a secret dossier that they had about her.
The first reference to Russian cyber attacks in the Trump Dossier appears in the second entry, which is dated 26th July 2016. This is four days after the first DNC emails were published on 22nd July 2016 by Wikileaks, and eight days after the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0 was referred to in a Fox news story as the likely source.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that on 20th June 2016 the creators of the Trump Dossier knew because of Julian Assange’s interview of 12th June 2016 that publication of damaging information about Hillary Clinton was coming. However they did not know what form this information would take nor what its source would be. Accordingly they guessed wildly and as it turns out wrongly that the information would come from a secret dossier the Russians had put together about Hillary Clinton. When the information however appeared and was publicly blamed on a cyber attack, they changed their story, no longer claiming the information came from a secret dossier but instead attributing it to a cyber attack.
Here therefore we have on the central issue of the whole Russiagate scandal evidence of the Trump Dossier’s creators taking their information not from high level sources within the Russian government but from the news media.
In summary, the ‘evidence’ for claim (3) derives from the Trump Dossier, whose account of the Russian decision making process is absurd, and which looks like a compilation based on media reports and occasionally faulty internet research spiced up with a heavy dose of invention.
US investigators have been unable to corroborate its claims for the simple reason that it is impossible to do so, since these claims are demonstrably and obviously untrue.
It turns out therefore that there is no evidence to support claim (3). Independently of claims (1) and (2), on careful examination the evidence for claim (3) collapses.
Claims (1) to (3) are the three central claims in the Russiagate scandal. To believe in the scandal it is necessary to believe that all three of these claims are true.
As it turns out the evidence for claim (1) is very thin and contentious, there is no evidence at all for claim (2), which is based on an almost certainly wrong guess, and the evidence for claim (3) – the Trump Dossier – does not stand up to examination, which is why the US’s investigative agencies have been unable to corroborate it.
Since in order for Russiagate to be true all three of these claims must be true, and since claim (1) may not be true, and since there is no evidence that claims (2) and (3) are true, the whole Russiagate scandal collapses.
Appendix 1 – Peripheral Claims
As invariably happens in scandals of this kind – particularly where there is no evidence to support them – all sorts of peripheral claims and micro-scandals crop up in their place. I will touch on them for completeness briefly here in a number of Appendices, though they do not alter or add to the conclusion, which following examination of the evidence of claims (1) to (3) has already been reached.
(4) the ‘real scandal’ is the corrupt financial relationship between Donald Trump and the Russians, which gives the Russians a ‘handle’ over him
The basis of this is claim is that Donald Trump’s business was supposedly bailed out by Russian money following a property crash and that this leaves him permanently in debt to the Russians, which somehow gives them a ‘handle’ over him.
This claim is regularly asserted, usually by people who don’t like Donald Trump but who are skeptical about Russiagate.
Unlike most of the claims which have been made in relation to Russiagate it contains a kernel of truth in that there is no doubt that Donald Trump has done business with Russian businessmen in the past. However there is no evidence that any of this was illegal or that it gives the Russian government – which should not be conflated with Russian businessmen – any sort of ‘handle’ over him. On the contrary such information as exists suggests no more than legal and ordinary business transactions.
(5) publication of the DNC and Podesta emails swung the election to Donald Trump
No polling evidence supports this claim and it is very unlikely to be true. Such evidence as there is suggests that Trump suffered more from the (unsubstantiated) claims that he was the Kremlin’s choice for President than Hillary Clinton did because of the revelations in the DNC and Podesta emails.
(6) a vast Russian ‘fake news’ offensive swung the election to Donald Trump
This allegation was widespread last autumn following the election. It has looked increasingly threadbare since as proof or even evidence of such a tidal wave of ‘fake news’ originating from Russia has failed to appear.
This claim is often combined with criticism of the election coverage provided by RT. However no evidence has been provided that RT’s election coverage was biased in Donald Trump’s favour, and no evidence at all has been provided that RT’s coverage influenced the outcome of the election at all.
It is in fact inherently extremely unlikely that American voters would prefer the election coverage of a Russian news source to that of one of their own media, or that they would change their voting behaviour because of news or opinions they obtained from that Russian news source. Certainly it is extremely unlikely that this could have happened in anything like the sort of numbers such as would have been necessary to make a material difference to the outcome of the election.
As with so many of the other claims made during the Russiagate scandal, there is anyway no polling evidence to support this claim.
(7) the Russians hacked or intended to hack the voting machines but were deterred from doing so by US threats
The US government admits there was no hacking of the voting machines, either by the Russians or by anyone else. It has been suggested that the dispersed nature of these machines, with many of them apparently not connected to the internet, would actually have make such a hacking attack either impossible or at least extremely difficult.
As for the claim that the Russians intended to hack the voting machines but were deterred by US threats from doing so, belief in this ultimately derives from belief by some US officials in claims (1) to (3). Since as we have seen claims (1) to (3) don’t stack up, there is no reason to give any credence to this claim either.
(8) all 17 US intelligence agencies support the claim that Russia meddled in the US election
Recent remarks by Clapper, Brannon and Comey have shown that this claim if not exactly untrue, is far from being fully true.
It seems that only a carefully selected group of analysts from three US intelligence agencies – the CIA, the FBI and the NSA – completed the January 2017 ODNI report, which is the report of Russian meddling in the election which being treated as the definitive account of that meddling by the US intelligence community. Of the four intelligence agencies which signed off the report – ODNI, the CIA, the FBI and the NSA – the NSA gave certain parts of the report only its qualified support.
Doubtless the other intelligence agencies do not actively dissent from the findings of this report, which has now become the orthodoxy. However they have avoided saying anything about it, which suggests that they are keeping their heads down.
(9) US intelligence agencies have independently of the Trump Dossier verified that there were contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence agents
The most incendiary form in which this claim was made was in an article which appeared in The New York Times on 14th February 2017 which was based on anonymous sources and which former FBI Director Comey says was in “the main wrong”.
This claim appears to be based on information Western intelligence agencies obtained about the activities of two individuals, Paul Manafort and Carter Page.
Paul Manafort’s contacts with Russian businessmen are widely known about. However they are historic and appear to predate his involvement in the Trump campaign. There is nothing to suggest that they had any bearing on the US election, and there is nothing about them which suggest collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Carter Page, very unfairly, has been the focus of an inordinate amount of attention, and has even been the subject of a FISA warrant. However all his contacts with the Russians during the election were carried out in the open, and were perfectly legal and innocuous. Besides it is now clear that Carter Page had only a very peripheral connection to the Donald Trump campaign, and that he did not represent either the Trump campaign or Donald Trump himself.
(10) Donald Trump’s closeness to Russia is shown by the fact that he removed from the Republican platform a demand for weapons to be supplied to Ukraine
Donald Trump never at any time during the election made any secret of his wish to improve the US’s relations with the Russia.
As for the change in the Republican platform, that simply brought it into line with the existing policy of the Obama administration. There is no reason to look for any covert Russian involvement in this decision, and no evidence of such involvement exists.
Appendix 2 – the Flynn case
(11) The Flynn case is not properly speaking part of the Russiagate scandal at all, though it obviously derives from it. It stems from a single telephone conversation General Flynn had in December with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the same day that President Obama announced further sanctions against Russia.
Flynn is alleged to have violated the Logan Act during this call, and there are suggestions that he may be guilty of obstructing justice and may have made himself susceptible to blackmail by the Russians because he wrongly denied to Vice-President Pence and the FBI’s investigators that he had discussed Obama’s latest sanctions with Kislyak during the call.
These allegations are both cruel and absurd. No prosecution has been brought under the Logan Act in the two centuries of its existence. Nothing about the conversation Flynn had with Kislyak suggests it merits such a prosecution. Sources who have read the transcript of the conversation say that nothing Flynn said to Kislyak was wrong or improper.
As for Flynn’s subsequent denial that he discussed Obama’s sanctions with Kislyak, the circumstances point to that being nothing more than a simple mistake.
In view of all of this the allegations of criminal behaviour, obstruction of justice and exposure to blackmail which have been made against Flynn are cruel and absurd, which is confirmed by the fact that though more than half a year has passed since Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak no criminal charges in relation to it have been brought against him.
Appendix 3 – Obstruction of Justice
(12) This allegation stems from a conversation Trump had as President with Comey about Flynn, and from the tangled circumstances of Comey’s dismissal. Trump’s opponents say his conversation with Comey about Flynn amounted to obstruction of the investigation the FBI was carrying out against Flynn in connection with his conversation in December with Russian ambassador Kislyak. They also say that the circumstances of Comey’s dismissal and the contents of certain conversations between Trump and Comey point to Trump seeking to obstruct the FBI’s investigation into the Russiagate allegations.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump wanted the FBI to drop its investigation of Flynn. However there is no evidence that he either ordered the FBI to drop the investigation or put any pressure on the FBI to make it do so.
Trump did ask Comey to issue a public statement that he was not personally under investigation. Since that was true it was an entirely appropriate request for Donald Trump to make, and Comey was wrong to refuse it.
There is no evidence that Trump ordered Comey to drop the Russiagate investigation itself, or that he interfered in it in any way. On the contrary he made it clear to Comey that if any members of his campaign team were found to have done wrong then the law should take its course.
Trump did eventually sack Comey, and by his own admission dissatisfaction with Comey’s conduct of the Russiagate investigation played a part in this. However Comey had also by that time lost – though for different reasons – the confidence of the Justice Department, and his glacially slow conduct of the Russiagate investigation, his refusal to heed Trump’s call for an investigation of the numerous leaks which have been taking place during the Russiagate affair, and his refusal to publish the statement Trump wanted saying that Trump was not under investigation, make Trump’s decision to sack him both understandable and excusable.
There is no evidence Trump took or sought to take any step once Comey was sacked to end or curtail the Russiagate investigation, which continues unimpeded to this day under the new leadership of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The facts therefore show that whilst Trump acted unwisely and even inappropriately in his interactions with Comey, no actual obstruction of justice took place, and this is now the prevailing view of the legal community of the US.
As I have said previously, the heart of the Russiagate scandal is contained in claims (1) to (3). The fact that they do not stack up is sufficient in itself to show that the entire scandal has no substance.
It turns out that none of the nine other spin-off claims made during the scandal have any substance to them either. It is not surprising therefore that the whole scandal is starting to sag.
I remain of the view that it is only a matter of time before the scandal collapses completely.
Ultimately the claims which have made are so extreme that it will be impossible to justify the attention given to the scandal unless serious criminal charges are brought against some at least of the US citizens said to be involved in it. However the facts show that there is no factual basis for bringing such charges, and nor can there be. That all but guarantees the scandal’s eventual collapse.
Final word – not bigger than Watergate – bigger than Iraq’s WMD
One of the major untruths said about this scandal is that it is “bigger than Watergate”.
This is nonsense. Watergate began with an actual crime – the break in of the Democratic Party’s headquarters in the Watergate building by a team of burglars actually employed by the White House – which resulted in investigations which exposed a systematic campaign by the Nixon administration to obstruct the investigation of that crime and (as it turned out) of numerous other crimes.
The Russiagate scandal by contrast is a scandal about literally nothing. No crime has so far been detected apart from the alleged Russian hack of the computers of John Podesta and the DNC, an alleged crime which bizarrely the relevant police and investigative agency – the FBI – has not in fact even investigated. For the rest, no evidence has been discovered of any wrongdoing by any US citizen whose name has been mentioned in the scandal.
The last time something similar on this scale happened was in 2002 to 2003, when Iraq was invaded on the strength of bogus claims also unsupported by any evidence that Iraq was in possession of secret stockpiles of WMD (‘weapons of mass destruction’).
That debacle seriously damaged the reputation of the US intelligence community. Russiagate however has the potential to do it far more damage.
Not only is it a wholly fictitious scandal, like the one about Iraq’s non-existent stockpiles of WMD. Unlike the Iraq WMD scandal it is also a fictitious scandal conjured up by the US intelligence community which has a direct bearing on the domestic political processes of the United States.
Moreover it has been prosecuted in a grossly partisan way by the US intelligence community in alliance with the Democratic party and the liberal media against a Republican President.
When the scandal collapses the President and the Republicans will be fully justified in feeling not just vindicated but also deeply aggrieved. Given the sort of people some of them are, it is a certainty that when that happens they will be out for blood. The sequel to the scandal may turn out to be far more momentous than the scandal itself.
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