In 2016, the Russian Federation launched a significant attack on the integrity of the American electoral system, with the aim of, at a minimum, undermining its legitimacy and, at a maximum, affecting the outcome of the election. Despite the efforts of useful idiots on the far right and far left, this is simply no longer a matter of debate. Yes, it is certainly possible that Russian agents did not carry out each and every hack or disinformation exercise attributed to them, but this variation concerns matters of degree, not of kind. It also remains unclear whether these efforts materially affected the outcome. We will probably never know conclusively one way or another. This matters less than some suppose. The very attempt should, even if it won’t, shape American policy and political attitudes moving forward.
We also now know that the Trump campaign, as Jonathan Chait writes, pursued “several channels” by which it attempted to cooperate “with Russian efforts to help him win the presidency:”
The first, and best known, is a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 to pursue Russian promises of providing dirt on Hillary Clinton. A second is Roger Stone, a frequent Trump adviser who had clear advance notice of the publication of stolen emails. A third is Trump himself openly asking Russia to obtain Clinton’s State Department emails. The final channel is the efforts by Cambridge Analytica, the campaign’s data firm.
This list is charitable. It leaves out Carter Page’s idiotic machinations. Chait only mentions a single dimension of Michael Flynn’s efforts to demonstrate the wisdom of the Obama Administration’s decision to fire him. My Russia-specialist friends actively speculate whether Paul Manafort was simply an immoral crook or was compromised by the time he volunteered to run the Trump campaign. Also, let’s not forget Jeff Sessions. And let’s not forget such post-election hits at Jared Kushner’s attempt to create a secure “backchannel” for communication with the Russians.
This all seems relevant given Trump has, once again, doubled down on his ‘Putin is a great man, unlike those traitors in our intelligence community‘ routine:
TRUMP: He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. But I just asked him again, and he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they’re saying he did. And he said —
REPORTER: Do you believe him?
TRUMP: Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him. I’d rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I’d rather have him — you know, work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing about whether or not — because that whole thing was set up by the Democrats.
I mean, they ought to look at Podesta. They ought to look at all of the things that they’ve done with the phony dossier. Those are the big events. Those are the big events.
But Putin said he did not do what they said he did. And, you know, there are those that say, if he did do it, he wouldn’t have gotten caught, all right? Which is a very interesting statement. But we have a — you know, we have a good feeling toward getting things done.
And there’s more:
TRUMP: He just — every time he sees me, he says, “I didn’t do that.” And I believe — I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, “I didn’t do that.” I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth.
Don’t forget, all he said is he never did that, he didn’t do that. I think he’s very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. Because again, if we had a relationship with Russia, North Korea — which is our single biggest problem right now — North Korea, it would be helped a lot. I think I’m doing very well with respect to China. They’ve cut off financing; they’ve cut off bank lines; they’ve cut off lots of oil and lots of other things, lots of trade. And it’s having a big impact. But Russia, on the other hand, may be making up the difference. And if they are, that’s not a good thing.
So having a relationship with Russia would be a great thing — not a good thing — it would be a great thing, especially as it relates to North Korea.
And I’ll say this, Hillary had her stupid reset button that she spelled the word wrong, but she doesn’t have what it takes to have that kind of a relationship where you could call or you could do something and they would pull back from North Korea, or they’d pull back from Syria, or maybe pull back from Ukraine. I mean, if we could solve the Ukraine problem —
But this is really an artificial barrier that’s put in front of us for solving problems with Russia, and he says that very strongly. He really seems to be insulted by it, and he says he didn’t do it. So —
REPORTER: (Inaudible) do you believe him —
TRUMP: Excuse me?
REPORTER: Even if he (inaudible) one-on-one, do you believe him?
TRUMP: I think that he is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. And then you look, and you look at what’s going on with Podesta, and you look at what’s going on with the server from the D.N.C. and why didn’t the F.B.I. take it, why did they leave it, why did a third party look at the server and not the FBI — if you look at all of this stuff, and you say, what’s going on here?
And then you hear it’s 17 agencies. Well, it’s three. And one is Brennan and one is whatever. I mean, give me a break. They’re political hacks.
So you look at it — I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he’s proven to be a leaker.
So you look at that, and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that. Now, you’re not going to get into an argument. You’re going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.
The most charitable interpretation of these remarks is that Trump understands that there are areas where US-Russian cooperation is desirable, but is also an complete idiot. What is the least charitable interpretation? Trump remains frustrated that domestic pressures preclude him from pursuing a grand bargain with Moscow—of the kind that his campaign suggested would be forthcoming in return for Russian election assistance.
And who can blame him? He already told the Russian Foreign Minister and former Russian ambassador that:
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
What does this all comes down to? We know that:
- The Trump campaign showed interest, on many occasions, in securing Russian assistance to win the election;
- Trump’s policy dispositions have been generally good for Russia and bad for the United States; and
- Trump obstructed justice at least once—when he fired Comey—and wanted to do more to block the Russia investigation.
There are really only two outstanding questions: first, whether there was direct, ongoing, plausibly undeniable collusion and, second, who knew, and how much, about such collusion. That’s pretty much it.
The GOP is holding out for the best answers possible to those two questions. Republicans hope that these are at least ambiguous enough to not preclude massive tax cuts for the ultra-rich, with a side of destroying the environment and discriminating against sexual minorities.
This is the GOP in 2017, a party so morally bankrupt that even Max Boot, cheerleader of the worst foreign-policy blunder since at least Vietnam, now calls for its total collapse.