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Why the conspiracy theory about Trump and Russia won’t go away

Chris Hedges on the cynical collaboration between Trump opponents and the FBI

Media USA Politics

“Run for Your Lives.” Illustration by Mr. Fish.

There is no report, investigation or new revelation, including the recent release of Special Counsel John Durham’s “Report on Matters Related to Intelligence Activities and Investigations Arising Out of the 2016 Presidential Campaigns” that will implode the myth that Russia was responsible for the election of Donald Trump. Myths are impervious to facts. They fulfill an emotional yearning. They are a short circuit from reality into a world of childish simplicity. Hard and painful questions are avoided. Thought-terminating clichés are spat out to blissfully embrace a willed ignorance.

The cynical con the Democratic Party and the FBI carried out to falsely portray Donald Trump as a puppet of the Kremlin worked, and continues to work, because it is what those who detest Trump want to believe.

If Russia is blamed for Trump’s election, we avoid the unpleasant reality of our failed democratic institutions and decaying empire. We avoid facing the inevitable rise of a Christianized fascism borne out of widespread impoverishment, rage, despair and abandonment. We avoid acknowledging the complicity of the Democratic Party in the orchestration of the largest social inequality in our nation’s history, the evisceration of our basic civil liberties, endless wars and an electoral system bankrolled by the billionaire class, which is legalized bribery. The myth allows us to believe that Democratic politicians, like the establishment Republicans who have joined them, are the guarantors of a democracy they destroyed.

Our reality is bleak and frightening, especially given the abject refusal by the ruling oligarchs to deal seriously with the climate emergency. We face a precarious future. The monumental task of restoring democracy outside the confines of a broken electoral system and corporate-indentured institutions is daunting and not guaranteed. We stand on the cusp of tyranny. Blaming Vladimir Putin for the rise of an American demagogue—demagogues are always vomited up from dysfunctional political systems—magically makes the existential dilemma disappear.

The liberal media during the Trump-Russia saga, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, which shared a 2018 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on alleged Russian influence during the 2016 election, provided thousands of stories and reports that falsely painted the Trump administration as a tool of Russia. Their readers, like the viewers of CNN and MSNBC, were fed a comforting myth. When you feed a public consoling myths—the most absurd being that America is a good and virtuous nation—there is no accountability. Myths make us feel good. Myths demonize those blamed for our self-created debacles. Myths celebrate us as a people and a nation. But it is like handing heroin to junkies.

Shatter the myths, even if the facts are incontrovertible, and you become a pariah. I found this out when I and a handful of others, including Robert Scheer, Phil Donahue and Michael Moore, denounced calls to invade Iraq. It made no difference that I had been the Middle East Bureau Chief for the New York Times, was an Arabic speaker and had spent seven years reporting in the region, including in Iraq. I was censored, driven from the New York Times and attacked by George W. Bush’s useful idiots in the media, and the Democratic Party, as an apologist for Saddam Hussein.

The same ugly reception greeted those of us who questioned the “evidence” used to argue that Trump was a tool of Russia. We were branded stooges of Moscow and Trump apologists. We were again locked out of the debate. Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone and Aaron Maté at The Nation, found themselves under intense pressure for questioning the Trump-Russia narrative. All now work as independent journalists. You can see my interview with Taibbi here. Jeff Gerth is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who worked at the New York Times from 1976 until 2005. He spent two years investigating the Trump-Russia story for a four-part series published in the Columbia Journalism Review. He too became an object of vitriol. David Corn at Mother Jones, one of the most prolific shills for the Trump-Russia conspiracy, wrote a column after Gerth’s exhaustive 24,000-word series called “Trump-Russia Denialists Still Can’t Handle the Truth.” Gerth called Corn’s attack “a form of McCarthyism.” You can see my interview with Gerth here.

All the investigations into Trump’s ties with Russia are unequivocal. There was no collusion. The Steele dossier, financed at first by Republican opponents of Trump and later by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and compiled by former MI6 British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, was a fake. The charges in the dossier—which included reports of Trump receiving a “golden shower” from prostituted women in a Moscow hotel room and claims that Trump and the Kremlin had ties going back five years—were discredited by the FBI. Sources, including the one that claimed Trump had long-held ties to the Kremlin, turned out to be fabricated. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller concluded that his investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Mueller did not indict or accuse anyone of criminally conspiring with Russia.

Durham’s 306-page report, sent to Congress by Attorney General Merrick Garland earlier this week, is even more excoriating. It concludes that the FBI engaged in a witch hunt—code named Crossfire Hurricane—orchestrated by Hillary Clinton’s campaign that was aided and abetted by senior FBI officials who loathed Trump.

The Clinton campaign provided bogus information to the FBI about ties between Trump and Russia, including a charge made by Michael Sussmann and Marc Elias, the General Counsel to the Clinton campaign, that there was a secret channel between the Trump Organization and the Russian Alfa Bank. Salacious allegations such as this one would be passed by the Clinton campaign to the FBI and then leaked to the press which would report on the FBI investigations, giving the fabrications credibility.

For example, the Clinton campaign posted a tweet through Clinton’s Twitter account on October 31, 2016 that read: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based Bank.”

The tweet, Durham’s report notes, “included a statement from Clinton campaign advisor Jake Sullivan that made reference to the media coverage of the article and stated, in relevant part, that the allegations in the articles ‘could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow[,]’ that ‘[t]his secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia[,]’ and that ‘[w]e can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.’”

The FBI later determined there were no ties between the Trump organization and Alfa Bank.

“Whether or not the Clinton Plan intelligence was based on reliable or unreliable information, or was ultimately true or false, it should have prompted FBI personnel to immediately undertake an analysis of the information and to act with far greater care and caution when receiving, analyzing, and relying upon materials of partisan origins, such as the Steele Reports and the Alfa Bank allegations,” the report reads.

The FBI has a long and sordid record of illegal spying, infiltrating organizations, blackmailing, persecuting, entrapping and even assassinating US dissidents, such as Fred Hampton and perhaps Malcolm X, but it should still worry us when it operates as Thought Police on behalf of a ruling political party.

The Durham report concluded that there was not sufficient verified and reliable evidence to justify opening a full investigation. Those leading the investigation—FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page—were united, however, by a deep animus towards Trump. The report reads:

Strzok and Deputy Director McCabe’s Special Assistant had pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump. As explained later in this report, in text messages before and after the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, the two had referred to him as “loathsome,” “an idiot,” someone who should lose to Clinton “100,000,000- O,” and a person who Strzok wrote “[w]e’ll stop” from becoming President. Indeed, the day before the Australian information [concerning comments reportedly made in a tavern by George Papadopoulos, an unpaid foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign] was received at FBI Headquarters, Page sent a text message to Strzok stating, “Have we opened on him yet? [angryfaced emoji]” and referenced an article titled Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing.


The FBI, the report reads, authorized an investigation “upon receipt of unevaluated intelligence” and “without having spoken to the persons who provided the information.” The FBI did no “significant review of its own intelligence databases,” did not collect and examine “any relevant intelligence from other US intelligence entities” and did not interview “witnesses to understand the raw information it had received.” None of the “standard analytical tools employed by the FBI in evaluating raw intelligence” were used.

If the FBI had followed its established procedures it “would have learned that their own experienced Russia analysts had no information about Trump being involved with Russian leadership officials, nor were others in sensitive positions in the CIA, the NSA and the Department of State aware of such evidence.” The FBI had “no information in its holdings indicating that, at any time during the campaign, anyone in the Trump campaign had been in contact with any Russian intelligence officials.”

The investigation was launched solely based on the “unvetted and unverified Steele reports.” The Steele dossier was used to support probable cause in the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) applications to monitor Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor to Trump, along with falsified evidence presented to the FISA court by attorney Kevin Clinesmith. On the day after Trump’s election as president, Clinesmith “stated to fellow FBI personnel, among other things, ‘viva le resistance,’ an obvious reference to those individuals opposed to Trump.”

“The speed and manner in which the FBI opened and investigated Crossfire Hurricane during the presidential election season based on raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence also reflected a noticeable departure from how it approached prior matters involving possible attempted foreign election interference plans aimed at the Clinton campaign,” the report concludes.

The report documents a systematic abuse of power by senior members of the FBI to advance Hillary Clinton’s campaign. FBI officials were aware that there was no reason, other than an institutional hatred of Trump, to open the investigation. The FBI “discounted or willfully ignored material information that did not support the narrative of a collusive relationship between Trump and Russia,” the report reads. FBI officials “disregarded significant exculpatory information” and used “investigative leads provided or funded (directly or indirectly) by Trump’s political opponents” to prolong the investigation, feed the media frenzy and obtain search warrants.

The courtiers in the liberal media, who cater to an anti-Trump demographic and who spent years giving credibility to rumors, gossip and lies about Trump and Russia, predictably minimized or dismissed the report’s findings.

“After Years of Political Hype, the Durham Inquiry Failed to Deliver,” a May 17 New York Times headline reads.

The myth of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election provides a convenient escape hatch from the political, social, cultural and economic rot that plagues the US. The liberal class, by clinging to this conspiracy theory, is as disconnected from reality as the QAnon theorists and election deniers that support Trump. The retreat by huge segments of the population into non-reality-based belief systems leaves a polarized nation unable to communicate. Neither side speaks a language rooted in verifiable fact. This bifurcation, one I witnessed in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, fuels the distrust and hatred between antagonistic demographics. It accelerates political disintegration and dysfunction. It is used to justify, as was true with the FBI investigation of Trump, gross abuses of power. If those you oppose are evil—and rhetorically we are close to embracing such apocalyptic rhetoric—anything is permitted to thwart the enemy from achieving power. This is the lesson of the Durham report. It is an ominous warning.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 12 books, including the New York Times best-seller “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012), which he co-authored with the cartoonist Joe Sacco. His other books include “Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt,” (2015) “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His latest book is “America: The Farewell Tour” (2018). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and has sold over 400,000 copies. He writes a weekly column for the website ScheerPost.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.com.

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