Publication of Hillary Clinton’s book, which I have not read but which I gather characteristically blames everyone for her election defeat but herself, and which assumes all the Russiagate allegations to be true, begs the question of what stage the Russiagate investigation has reached, and whether we are any closer to a final end to this affair.
The answer is that the investigation – predictably enough – appears to be going nowhere, and that the affair is now probably close to its end.
Firstly, there has been a dearth of new ‘revelations’ driving the scandal, which suggests that the well of such ‘revelations’ from our old friends the ‘anonymous sources’ has finally dried up. In place of these ‘revelations’ the media has had to content itself with reports of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s activities, including details of the various people he has had interviewed or intends to have interviewed.
The fact that Mueller and his people are carrying out these interviews and are going through the evidence is in my opinion a good thing. Whilst Comey was in charge of the Russiagate investigation it proceeded at a snail’s pace, almost certainly because Comey had a vested interest in keeping it going as long as possible. Mueller by contrast appears to be taking his job seriously, which means that (finally!) the people who have been publicly implicated in the scandal are being interviewed, giving them at last an opportunity to state their case and to respond to the allegations which have made against them.
Apart from this the pro-Russiagate media has had only thin fare to work with. A front page article in the New York Times dated 28th August 2017 about an individual called Felix Sater (described by the New York Times as a “Trump associate”) who bragged in emails he sent in November 2015 to Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen about his high profile connections in Moscow and of his ability to get Russian project financing for a real estate deal in Moscow, is shown to be a red herring by this admission in the New York Times article itself
There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises, and one email suggests that Mr. Sater overstated his Russian ties. In January 2016, Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, asking for help restarting the Trump Tower project, which had stalled. But Mr. Cohen did not appear to have Mr. Peskov’s direct email, and instead wrote to a general inbox for press inquiries.
The project never got government permits or financing, and died weeks later.
As the independent journalist Robert Parry rightly says, the episode does not show that Trump has links to Moscow. On the contrary if anything it proves that he has none.
In the meantime there are indications that even of the most fervid supporters of the Russiagate theory have been rattled by the forensic analysis questioning the evidence of a Russian hack of the DNC provided by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. Supposedly the analysis has now been shown to Attorney General Sessions and to Mueller himself, though Sessions has no role in the Russiagate investigation since he recused himself from it.
The fact that the analysis is causing concern is shown by the fact that there have apparently been – most unusually in the Russiagate affair – attempts to refute the analysis in the mainstream media, which is contrary to the media’s usual practice of simply ignoring evidence which calls into question the allegations made over the course of the Russiagate scandal.
Meanwhile, whilst there has been a dearth of revelations driving the scandal, there has now been an important admission from Susan Rice – Obama’s National Security Adviser – that some people close to Donald Trump were indeed placed under surveillance during the transition period, and that she did indeed demand that the identities of these people be circulated within the US government’s bureaucracy (“unmasked”).
This was previously widely denied, including implicitly by Susan Rice herself, for example in this interview
Woodruff: We’ve been following a disclosure by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, that in essence, during the final days of the Obama administration, during the transition, after President Trump had been elected, that he and the people around him may have been caught up in surveillance of foreign individuals in that their identities may have been disclosed. Do you know anything about this?
Rice: I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.
(bold italics added)
Here by contrast is what CNN reports actually happened
Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.
The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.
The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter.
Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.
CNN claims that members of the House Intelligence Committee were satisfied with Susan Rice’s explanations. By contrast I find them nothing short of bizarre.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan is as it happens the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, not of the United Arab Emirates, which is a confederation of Gulf Arab states which includes Abu Dhabi as well as Dubai, and which therefore does not have a “Crown Prince”.
At this point it is worth saying that Abu Dhabi is one of the US’s strongest and most trusted allies in the region. The fact that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan failed to inform the Obama administration of his visit to Washington to meet with officials of the incoming Trump administration in the run up to the inauguration scarcely seems a reason to place him under surveillance. At worst it was a mere act of discourtesy. Certainly, since there appears to have been nothing secret about his visit, it was hardly a reason to place him under surveillance when all he appears to have been intent on doing was meeting with senior incoming officials of the US government.
CNN reports “a senior Middle East official” saying
The meeting was about ascertaining the Trump team’s view of the region and sharing the UAE’s view of the region and what the US role should be. No one was coming in to sell anything or arrange anything.
This is a perfectly valid and sufficient reason for the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to want to meet with the officials of an incoming US administration. Note that according to this unnamed “senior Middle East official” relations with Russia were not the subject of the discussion. Other sources who have spoken to CNN confirm this
It’s unclear precisely which Trump officials Rice discussed at the House meeting. But multiple sources have confirmed to CNN that Zayed met at the time with Flynn, Kushner and Bannon. The three-hour discussion focused on a range of issues, including Iran, Yemen and the Mideast peace process, according to two sources who insisted that opening up a back-channel with Russia was not a topic of discussion.
CNN – presumably on the strength of claims by Susan Rice or possibly from sources within the House Intelligence Committee – tries to get round this by linking the meeting between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and the incoming officials of the Trump administration in December with a meeting which happened shortly after in January in the Seychelles between Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater, and an unnamed Russian official.
The Seychelles meeting — and the circumstances around it — has been a subject of interest to Hill investigators looking at any potential link between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The Washington Post initially reported in April that the UAE brokered a pre-inauguration meeting between the founder of the security firm Blackwater, Erik Prince, who is a close Trump ally, and an associate of Vladimir Putin’s in the Seychelles Islands. The purpose of the meeting was part of an effort by the UAE to persuade Russia to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, according to the Post.
And it occured shortly after Bannon, Flynn and Kushner also met in Trump Tower with Zayed, whom the Post said helped arrange the Seychelles meeting with Russia government officials to set up the private discussions with the Trump team.
However all this is expressly denied by the White House – which says that Erik Prince was in no sense a representative of the incoming Trump administration – as well as by the unnamed “senior Middle East official”, and by Erik Prince himself
But the senior Middle East official told CNN this week that Prince’s name was not discussed at the Trump Tower meeting. And Prince himself has said he did nothing wrong, telling CNN’s Erin Burnett last month: “I was there for business.”
Both the White House and Prince have strongly denied that Prince was working as a liaison for the Trump administration.
Prince said he met with a Russian while at the Seychelles but “I don’t remember his name.”
“It probably lasted about, as long as one beer,” he said about the meeting.
In truth Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan scarcely seems a likely person to want to set up a covert ‘backchannel’ between the incoming Trump administration and Russia, or someone likely to be used for such a purpose either by Donald Trump or his associates or by the Russians, and it is scarcely credible that either the Obama administration or the US intelligence community ever thought he was.
Given that this is so, and given that he is a close friend and ally of the US who had come to Washington for no other purpose than to meet with incoming officials of the US government, it is difficult to see what reason there was to put him or the people he was meeting under surveillance.
Frankly the meeting between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and the officials of the incoming Trump administration in December, as well as the meeting between Erik Prince and the unnamed Russian in the Seychelles in January, look to me to have been introduced into the Russiagate story in order to excuse the fact that incoming officials of the Trump administration were indeed placed under surveillance and – at Susan Rice’s urging – had their identities “unmasked” despite the fact that they had done nothing wrong and when there was no good reason to do it.
I have previously written that the true scandal of 2016 is that US citizens who have committed no wrong were placed under surveillance during the election and after, without proper cause. Susan Rice’s admission seems to me a further big step towards confirming this.
In addition to the Susan Rice admissions certain other allegations have been circulating in alternative media which if true are even more explosive.
These claim that the FBI was the ultimate client of Christopher Steele, and paid him in excess of $100,000 for the Trump Dossier, and that this happened after Steele was introduced to the FBI by Senator McCain, for whom Steele supposedly produced the earliest entries of the Trump Dossier.
Supposedly there are now recriminations within the FBI about this, as the bogus nature of the Trump Dossier has become increasingly clear.
These allegations would be explosive if they were true, and they are not intrinsically implausible. After all intelligence and police agencies regularly pay foreign informers for information, which is essentially all that is being alleged in this case. The scandal would not be that this is what happened. Rather it would be that the FBI was so easily gulled that it paid so much money for such an obviously false concoction as the Trump Dossier, and that it failed after the existence of the Trump Dossier became known either to admit to this or to admit its own role in producing it.
However I have to say that I do not trust these claims because I do not trust the sources that report them, and until some more reliable confirmation of these claims appears I will disregard them.
Overall it is difficult to avoid the impression that the Russiagate investigation is drawing to a close without any result to report. Perhaps this explains the sudden shift towards attacking Russian media outlets like RT, which has suddenly and outrageously been called upon to register itself as a foreign agent.
It is a consistent pattern of the Russiagate scandal that whenever evidence to support its central allegations fails to appear its advocates turn on RT as the most readily available scapegoat. The point was well made recently by Peter Lavelle
If Robert Mueller’s inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is now focusing on RT and Sputnik, then the only conclusion to draw is he has found nothing. Blaming RT and Sputnik is cost free for him and the Swamp. Another travesty of justice and a mortal blow against free speech.
Robert Mueller, whatever else he is, is an experienced investigator. He has now been heading the Russiagate investigation for several months, during which – as media reports confirm – his team of investigators have been extremely active.
It is difficult to believe that by now he does not realise that the central allegation of the Russiagate scandal – that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence to publish the emails which were stolen from John Podesta and the DNC – is untrue and unfounded. If he ever had any doubts about this then the clear and comprehensive statement provided by Jared Kushner showing the very limited extent of the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russians ought to have put such doubts to rest.
Mueller’s duty as an investigator requires him to see his investigation through to the end, and to go through each and every allegation which has been made over the course of the affair. Leaving loose ends hanging around will simply provide an excuse for advocates of the scandal to go on making the claims they have been making, when the whole point of an investigation like this is to achieve closure. No doubt that is how Mueller sees it, and for that reason he will see this thing through to its end.
However it is wrong to say that there is a mountain of evidence and testimony for Mueller and his team of investigators to go through. On the contrary the number of individuals involved in the Russiagate affair is actually quite small. By now Mueller’s investigators must have spoken to most of them, and must have picked through most of the files.
Earlier in the spring before Mueller was appointed Special Counsel I said that I expected the Russiagate scandal to collapse under its own weight by early summer. Mueller’s appointment, and the snail’s pace at which the investigation was proceeding when Comey was in charge of it, means that it is taking longer than this. However I now expect Mueller’s investigation to be completed and him to report before the end of the year.
At that point, though the true believers in the Russiagate conspiracy will doubtless go on believing in it, the worst period of the scandal will finally come to an end.