Yglesias observes that the “nothing to see here” argument on Trump/Russia is far more convoluted and implausible than the alternative:
Paul Manafort left his job working as the Kremlin’s favorite expat political consultant in Ukraine in the spring of 2016 to run his old acquaintance Donald Trump’s long-shot presidential campaign on a volunteer basis.
Soon after, Moscow-backed hackers transmitted thousands of stolen Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks, whose release was artfully timed to make trouble for Trump’s Democratic opponents. They became the basis of Trump campaign rhetoric in the months before Election Day.
Emerging conventional wisdom in Washington, however, remains that there’s little reason to believe that Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation will end up proving much of interest. Politico magazine editor-in-chief Blake Hounshell this weekend wrote one of the buzziest pieces advocating a skeptical approach to Mueller’s ongoing inquiry, titled “Confessions of a Russiagate Skeptic,” throwing cold water on the notion of high-level cooperation between Trumpworld and the Russians.
But to believe this, frankly, requires a much greater suspension of disbelief than to posit that the president colluded with Russia. You have to believe that after a decade of paying Manafort millions for his expertise to help pro-Russian candidates win elections in Ukraine, no one from Moscow thought to consult with him about how to help a pro-Russia candidate win an election in the United States.
And we have to believe that even though we know Trump’s son was both in touch with WikiLeaks and openly enthusiastic about the idea of collaborating with Russia on obtaining and disseminating anti-Hillary Clinton dirt, when he met with Russians on this very topic, they didn’t talk about it. And, of course, we have to believe that Trump’s specific — and quite public — call for Putin to hack more Clinton emails was completely random.
Trump–Russia skeptics, legion in the political press, brush all this aside in a gesture of faux sophistication, positing a bizarre series of coincidences complete with a massive cover-up all — for no particular reason.
The point about how much Trump cited WikiLeaks is important. We can be as confident as we could ever be in a campaign counterfactual that the coverage of James Comey’s unethical and prejudicial letter changed the outcome of the election. Because the hacks leaked out slowly, it’s impossible to evaluate their effects with similar confidence. But it’s certainly possible that they had a material impact. And since there’s no reason to think this ratfucking will stop, the nation’s political desks really need to stop being dupes for bad actors with obvious agendas.