In the comments to the Maskirovka Slips XI post, PJ wrote:
Even a Putin critic like Masha Gessen has claimed that Russophobia is behind the allegations connecting Trump with the Russians, and that there’s nothing to see here, folks.
This is a good point to raise and something to keep in mind as everything continues to play out. My guess is that PJ was referencing this article by Gessen at The NY Review of Books. Gessen’s essential thesis is that:
Russia has become the universal rhetorical weapon of American politics. Calls for the release of Trump’s tax returns—which the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) hopes to have subpoenaed as a result of its lawsuit alleging the violation of the Emoluments Clause—are now framed in terms of the need to reveal Trump’s financial ties to Russia. And the president himself is recapturing the campaign debate’s “No, you are the puppet” moment on Twitter, trying to smear Democratic politicians Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with Russia.
The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome.
And that this almost unrelenting focus is obscuring equally, if not more important matters:
Imagine if the same kind of attention could be trained and sustained on other issues—like it has been on the Muslim travel ban. It would not get rid of Trump, but it might mitigate the damage he is causing. Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war. Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.
Gessen has likely forgotten more about Putin and how he operates than most people will ever know, and I doubt she’s forgotten much if anything. And her concerns and caveats are important to keep in mind going forward. However, I think her concerns, as rooted in her excellent column on autocracy from November 2016, are also missing something: the overwhelming, open source reporting and documentation about the connection between the President, his business the Trump Organization, his children, and both senior and peripheral members of his campaign, his transition, and now his Administration with Russian government officials, Russians connected to Russian Intelligence – formally and informally, Russian oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian Oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, and people – Russian and non-Russian tied to Russian organized crime.
As I’ve been stating here, and Malcolm Nance has been tweeting and stating on a variety of news platforms:
Nance's Law: Coincidence take allot of planning. https://t.co/OCLwMNN1X8
— Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) March 5, 2017
And, to quote Ian Fleming, as many have:
Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action.
As Evan McMullin tweeted:
Interesting phenom: without a serious Congressional Russia/Trump investigation, it's been organically crowdsourced to the media and public.
— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) March 25, 2017
While I think it is important to keep Gessen’s concerns in mind, we have significant amounts of circumstantial evidence as a result of open source reporting and documentation. What we don’t have, what we don’t really know, is what the material that the Interagency Counterintelligence (CI) Task Force investigating all of this has. And here, I think, is where some of Gessen’s concerns begin to break down: a lot of the leaking hasn’t been anything that wasn’t either already known in the open source reporting and documentation for those that knew where to look or were looking and/or were intended as warning shots across various people’s bows. For instance, the leaks about Attorney General Sessions were the latter. They were intended to put him on notice that if he tried to muck about with the CI investigation the next shot wouldn’t be for range, it would be for effect. And to his credit, AG Sessions was smart enough to recognize this and recused himself.
As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.
The sooner the President-elect and his team can either provide evidence for why the allegations and rumors are spurious or provide a simple and straightforward explanation for the seeming preference for Russia and the abandonment of the post WW II and post Cold War international order the better.
Unfortunately we’ve reached a point where I’m not sure a straightforward and simple explanation can be made. The circumstantial evidence we’re all able to review from the open source reporting and documentation seems to have obliterated that possibility. Yesterday several of the surviving members of the investigative reporting team that included the late Wayne Barrett provided even greater details and granularity into the Trump Organizations connections to Russian organized crime via Felix Sater and Sater’s ties to the Department of Justice and the FBI, specifically the New York Field Office. Today WNYC reported on some of Paul Manafort’s real estate transactions that appear to follow the same patterns as those done to launder money. These stories broke almost at the same time as Richard Engel’s reporting on Manafort’s financial dealings in Cyprus, USA Today‘s reporting on the Trump Organizations alleged ties to Russian and other state’s organized crime,* The New Yorker‘s multiple reports, and Michael Issikoff’s reporting on the ongoing mess that Congressman Nunes’ actions and statements have made of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This includes functionally shutting the committee down so that the House of Representatives no longer conducts oversight of the US Intelligence Community given that all future business of the committee has now been postponed indefinitely.
For those of us that have been following these things for a while, a lot of this wasn’t new, surprising, or both. And that’s really why I think Gessen’s caveats and concerns are important to keep in mind, but that she is also missing the forest for the trees. There is just too much coincidence here. The US Intelligence Community does not form Interagency Counterintelligence investigations willy nilly. Nor do judges approve FISA warrants for spurious or frivolous reasons. I honestly have no idea where all this will lead. And I do agree with Gessen and others that even if these investigations ultimately demonstrate actual connections and collusions between the President’s campaign and the Russians which given how things have been intertwined under Putin basically includes the Russian government, Russian intelligence, Russian oligarchs, and Russian organized crime, we may not see the resolution that many are hoping for. These connections are all linked together, which also makes unravelling this ball of yarn difficult. Part of the problem going forward is exactly why we have been in a Constitutional crisis for months. It is unclear which, if any, of the institutional protections and remedies that the Constitution delineates actually could be used to resolve what we have been watching slowly unfold since last Summer when the leaks of hacked DNC, DSCC, DCC, and John Podesta emails began to trickle out. If there is nothing to see here, as Gessen attests, then there certainly is a whole lot of a very specific type of nothing** all around the President, his family, his business, his campaign, his transition, and his Administration.
* The Who, What, Why?, USA Today, and WYNC reporting are not actually breaking news. They do provide substantially more details about things that have been previously reported, documented, and/or known.
** And this nothing doesn’t even get into financial ties between the President and PRC state owned banks, which are facially violations of the emoluments clause as a result of the President’s failure to properly and fully divest from his business.