By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny
Until now, getting into the news and reports about Russia and Trump meant getting into some rather dense weeds (PDF of declassified report here), but with the recent release by Buzzfeed of the full 35-page dossier on Trump and Russia (the explosive one, with the women peeing on Obama’s former hotel room bed), which was distilled into a two-page appendix in the classified version of the report, the road to clarity just presented itself.
So I offer the text of three tweets (mine), a longer discussion of those main points, and comments by Glenn Greenwald on the latest Trump-Russia-intel community contretemps. Everything else, as I now see it, is detail, a gloss on these three points.
First, the tweets, a bullet-point capsule of all the main points up to now:
1) It certainly looks like our Security State is using Russian blackmail material against Trump to blackmail him for their own purposes.
— Gaius Publius (@Gaius_Publius) January 11, 2017
2) Where's the outrage from the usual Dem suspects about federal agents interfering in the political process now?
— Gaius Publius (@Gaius_Publius) January 11, 2017
3) is this difference in treatment obvious only to me, or is the nation noticing as well? If so, not good for "usual Dems" & their cred.
— Gaius Publius (@Gaius_Publius) January 11, 2017
This hits, I think, the main elements to watch in tightly compressed form. Read on for the long version of these three points. Click here to jump ahead to Greenwald’s take on all this.
Blackmailing the U.S. President
As I said above, there only three elements to “get” to get this story. First, there’s the blackmail element. According to the 35-page dossier, Russia (supposedly) prepared blackmail material on Trump but isn’t using it.
One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington, multiple sources tell CNN.
“For your information, sir”? Or “Careful; you don’t know what all us intel types know about you … sir”? Again, Trump was presented with just a two-page summary of the full dossier. The actual information, which we have thanks to the later publication of the 35-page dossier, was reportedly not presented to him, perhaps to leave to his imagination what it contained.
Now the detail: According to an ex-MI6 (the British CIA) agent, whose dossier, I understand from talking with journalists, was shopped around to a number of publications and rejected as unreliable before it seems to have found a home on David Corn’s desk — according to this ex-agent, Russia had assembled a fair amount of blackmail material on Donald Trump, including his sexual practices while staying at first-class hotels in Russia. But Russia, we’re told, isn’t using the material against him since Trump is in sync with their goals anyway.
American sources, however, have published this material since it came to them as well from the same ex-MI6 agent. In other words, the 35-page dossier was available both to American intel services and the U.S. press because its author had been shopping it around broadly for publication. But almost without exception, the American press considered it unreliable and wouldn’t touch it.
Yet a summary of this widely-considered-unreliable dossier appeared in the classified briefing the U.S. intel chiefs presented to Donald Trump. Why? The obvious answer is to blackmail Trump for their own purposes.
We can speculate on what those purposes are. My best guess is to keep alive the new cold war with Russia; others like Corey Robin think maybe just agency revenge. But using unreliable information to frighten Trump is an obvious shot across his bow. It says, “We’re the we-know-everything National Security State. There’s more where this came from. You’re vulnerable to anyone who knows this stuff. Think that through … sir.”
The Security Services, the Political Process, and the Democratic Party
Second, there’s the element of multiple intrusions into the political process. Russia certainly attempted to tilt the election their way, but they were not alone in that effort. For example, the present use of blackmail material by U.S. intel chiefs, or the threat of its use, is itself an intrusion of the U.S. security services (what Greenwald calls the “deep state”) into the 2016-2017 political process.
But even this is not unique. Consider the James Comey affair. Prior to the election, there were many hands meddling to tilt the political outcome as well. For example, Comey’s “no charge” charges against Clinton count as one attempt to intrude. As I viewed the evidence against her (see here), a Comey recommendation to indict would have been justifiable. (Remember, the FBI doesn’t indict; that’s left to Loretta Lynch and the Dept. of Justice, a duty she couldn’t credibly perform after her secret tarmac meeting Bill Clinton was revealed.)
Or barring a recommendation to indict, Comey could have just stood down, recommended not to indict — and then kept his mouth shut. Had he done that, it might have been a political act since Comey is a careerist serving a Democratic president and a Democratic Attorney General. (Again, there was ample cause to turn what he correctly called “gross negligence” into a recommendation to pursue the investigation to the grand jury level. After all, the same statute has been wielded by Obama many times to punish less well-placed individuals for far less negligence running a secret, private, wide-open server through which all her government communications were passed, whether classified or not.)
But caught between an Obama administration that signaled clearly it wanted no indictment — political interference on their part — and a group of right-wing agents who clearly wanted one, Comey tried to have it both ways and failed to please anyone at all. The speech in which he indicted without indicting was certainly a political act in both senses of the phrase. He tried to get the political outcome of a recommendation to indict without recommending to indict, and in the office politics sense, he tried to please both his bosses and his employees to preserve his standing and his job.
Unfortunately, his bosses and his employees wanted opposite things. Many of the FBI agents involved in the server investigation clearly wanted an indictment, and when one wasn’t forthcoming, started leaking what they knew — or what they wanted people to think they knew — to the press. This represented political interference as well, not only by agents of the FBI, but also by investigators in the NY Police Dept, which had control of Anthony Wiener’s laptop, and who were also leaking to the press.
The Democrats at this point, I think rightly, felt heavy “cop hands” on the scale of this election (without at all acknowledging the president’s own hand, or that of Loretta Lynch), and said so — loudly.
But Comey was not alone. The CIA and NSA (the largest part of the “national security state”) were intruding politically in the other direction, by endorsing Clinton and demonizing Trump (my emphasis):
For months, the CIA, with unprecedented clarity, overtly threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and sought to defeat Donald Trump. In August, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell announced his endorsement of Clinton in the New York Times and claimed that “Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” The CIA and NSA director under George W. Bush, Gen. Michael Hayden, also endorsed Clinton, and went to the Washington Post to warn, in the week before the election, that “Donald Trump really does sound a lot like Vladimir Putin,” adding that Trump is “the useful fool, some naif, manipulated by Moscow, secretly held in contempt, but whose blind support is happily accepted and exploited.”
It is not hard to understand why the CIA preferred Clinton over Trump. Clinton was critical of Obama for restraining the CIA’s proxy war in Syria and was eager to expand that war, while Trump denounced it.
Now Trump is president and the pro-war national security forces are at it again, leaning again on Trump in yet another intrusion into the political process.
So who again tried to tilt the field for or against Clinton or Trump? Including Russia, the administration, Comey, agents of the FBI and NY police, the CIA and national security forces, I count five groups. This is a lot of political intrusion, regardless of which candidate you favored — all within the last year — and we’re still not done. I’m sure we’re only halfway through this extended drama.
The Selective Blindness of the Democratic Party
Third, with all this political interference, where are the Democrats? Do they condemn it all, praise it all, or pick and choose?
Bottom line: They see what they want to see, not what’s in front of us all and in plain sight. Which is not only unprincipled, it’s dangerous … for them as well as us.
Again, they did not see Obama’s original declarations of Clinton’s innocence as political intrusion. But they did see Comey’s eventual “won’t indict, but will condemn” speech, and his and other investigators’ pre-election actions, as political intrusion. They did not see the “pro-war” security apparatus’ endorsement of Clinton and trashing of Trump as intrusions. But they do see Russian interference as intrusion. And they absolutely don’t see the security services’ present blackmail threats against a duly elected president as political interference.
They see what they want to see, what they think helps them politically and electorally, and they’re blind to the rest. This is highly unprincipled. And again, it’s dangerous as well.
After all, one reason the institutional Democratic Party nearly lost to Sanders, a highly principled man — and did lose to Trump, a man who pretended to be principled — is that plenty of voters in key states were just tired of being taken for a ride by “say one thing, do another” Democrats. Tired, in other words, of unprincipled Democrats — tired of job-promising, job-killing trade deals pushed hard by both Democratic presidents, tired of the bank bailout that made every banker whole but rescued almost no mortgagees, tired of their reduced lives, their mountain of personal debt, tired of the overly complex, profit-infected, still-unsolved medical care system — tired of what 16 years of Democrats had done to them, not for them.
If Democrats want to start winning again, not just the White House, but Congress and state houses, they can’t continue to be these Democrats — unprincipled and self-serving. They must be those Democrats, Sanders Democrats, principled Democrats instead.
Does the above litany of complaint about political interference when it suits them, and non-complaint when it doesn’t, look like principled behavior to you?
Which brings me to the end of this part of the discussion. If some people see this party behavior as self-serving hypocrisy, you can bet others do as well. Democrats can only turn this decade-long collapse around by not being who they appeared to be in the last three election cycles. They have to attract the Sanders voters who stood aside in the general election and see them very negatively. Yes, Democrats will continue to get votes — some people will always vote Democratic. But in the post-Sanders, post-Trump era, will they get enough votes to turn the current tide, which runs heavily against them?
I’m not alone in thinking, not a chance.
But this is the long form of what I wanted to say. For the elevator speech version, just read the three tweets at the top. I think they capture the main points very nicely.
Greenwald’s take is very similar to mine, and there’s much more research in his excellent piece. Writing at The Intercept, he says (emphasis in original):
The Deep State Goes to War with President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer
In January, 1961, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address after serving two terms as U.S. president; the five-star general chose to warn Americans of this specific threat to democracy: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” That warning was issued prior to the decadelong escalation of the Vietnam War, three more decades of Cold War mania, and the post-9/11 era, all of which radically expanded that unelected faction’s power even further.
This is the faction that is now engaged in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked president-elect, Donald Trump. They are using classic Cold War dirty tactics and the defining ingredients of what has until recently been denounced as “Fake News.”
Their most valuable instrument is the U.S. media, much of which reflexively reveres, serves, believes, and sides with hidden intelligence officials. And Democrats, still reeling from their unexpected and traumatic election loss as well as a systemic collapse of their party, seemingly divorced further and further from reason with each passing day, are willing — eager — to embrace any claim, cheer any tactic, align with any villain, regardless of how unsupported, tawdry and damaging those behaviors might be.
You can see where this is going. The “deep state,” the CIA, NSA and the rest of the unelected national security apparatus of the U.S., is going to war with an elected president even before he takes office, and Democrats are so eager for a win that they’re siding with them.
Did Russia attempt to interfere in the U.S. election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Did the agents of the FBI et al attempt to interfere in the U.S. election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Is the national security state today interfering in the outcome of a U.S. election, by trying to destabilize and force its will on the incoming administration? Of course, and Democrats are cheering it.
As horrible and as monstrous as this incoming administration is — and it will prove to be the worst in American history — who would aid the national security apparatus in undermining it?
Apparently, the Democratic Party. Greenwald continues:
The serious dangers posed by a Trump presidency are numerous and manifest. There are a wide array of legitimate and effective tactics for combatting those threats: from bipartisan congressional coalitions and constitutional legal challenges to citizen uprisings and sustained and aggressive civil disobedience. All of those strategies have periodically proven themselves effective in times of political crisis or authoritarian overreach.
But cheering for the CIA and its shadowy allies to unilaterally subvert the U.S. election and impose its own policy dictates on the elected president is both warped and self-destructive. Empowering the very entities that have produced the most shameful atrocities and systemic deceit over the last six decades is desperation of the worst kind. Demanding that evidence-free, anonymous assertions be instantly venerated as Truth — despite emanating from the very precincts designed to propagandize and lie — is an assault on journalism, democracy, and basic human rationality. And casually branding domestic adversaries who refuse to go along as traitors and disloyal foreign operatives is morally bankrupt and certain to backfire on those doing it.
And Greenwald agrees that this tactic is not just craven; it’s also dangerous:
Beyond all that, there is no bigger favor that Trump opponents can do for him than attacking him with such lowly, shabby, obvious shams, recruiting large media outlets to lead the way. When it comes time to expose actual Trump corruption and criminality, who is going to believe the people and institutions who have demonstrated they are willing to endorse any assertions no matter how factually baseless, who deploy any journalistic tactic no matter how unreliable and removed from basic means of ensuring accuracy?
All of this, don’t forget, rests on the one document mentioned above, the material summarized in an appendix to the classified version of the security services’ report on Russia (emphasis mine):
the Deep State unleashed its tawdriest and most aggressive assault yet on Trump: vesting credibility in and then causing the public disclosure of a completely unvetted and unverified document, compiled by a paid, anonymous operative while he was working for both GOP and Democratic opponents of Trump, accusing Trump of a wide range of crimes, corrupt acts and salacious private conduct. The reaction to all of this illustrates that while the Trump presidency poses grave dangers, so, too, do those who are increasingly unhinged in their flailing, slapdash, and destructive attempts to undermine it.
I’ll send you to the Greenwald piece for much more of this detail. As I said above, this story has seemed muddy until now, but it just came clear.
This is not a game, even at the electoral level. It has nation-changing, anti-democratic consequences. Democratic voters fear a coup, or a kind of coup, led by the Trump administration, and for good reason. But there’s another coup in the making as well, and Democrats are cheering it.
If a Republican elected official had publicly warned Obama not oppose a policy the Republicans and the CIA/NSA favored because “they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you,” what would — what should — our response to that be? Mine would be horror and shock that a Republican had dared make that threat, followed by fear that he, and the agencies behind him, will make good on it. At which point, it’s farewell democracy, likely for a long long time.
Yet the following actually did happen (Greenwald again, my emphasis): “Just last week, Chuck Schumer issued a warning to Trump, telling Rachel Maddow that Trump was being ‘really dumb’ by challenging the unelected intelligence community because of all the ways they possess to destroy those who dare to stand up to them.” And yet there was no shock or fear, at least from Maddow or her viewers.
And Schumer really did use the phrase “they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you.” The video is embedded here. Is that how Democrats plan to defeat Trump? Is it better, more comforting, if a Democrat makes that threat and appears to side with the security agencies’ (the deep state’s) strong-arm tactics?
A coup in the making — not the one we fear, which may also occur — but a coup nonetheless. This really is not a game, and both sides are playing for keeps.