A few weeks ago, when I wrote the post titled "What Is With This Weird Obsession With Russia?", I was getting the impression that all progressives, and for that matter the movement itself, had completely lost their minds. Really, this would have to fade away in short order. And yet here we are, most of a month later, and the narrative seems to be going as strong as ever.
And so, the day before yesterday, we had FBI Director Comey called before Congress (the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) for what was reported as over five hours of testimony. Not that Comey himself got to say much -- it was mostly Congressmen grandstanding for as long as they could get the mic and the TV cameras focused on them. (Don't worry, I didn't watch the whole thing, or even significant amounts; just enough to get a flavor.) The hearing got the New York Times sufficiently excited yesterday to gin up an article in the lead position covering about a third of the front page. According to that article, Comey confirmed the existence of an investigation into efforts by the Russians to "interfere" in the election, including contacts between Russians and members of the Trump campaign:
“The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” [Comey said], adding that the investigation included looking at whether associates of Mr. Trump were in contact with Russian officials, and whether they colluded with them.
And for how long has the investigation been going on?
Mr. Comey told lawmakers that the investigation began in July. . . .
The guy who got to carry most of the water for the Democrats was a fellow from California that you've probably never heard of before, Adam Schiff. Meanwhile, outside the hearing room, Senate Minority Leader Schumer took the opportunity to intone to the New York Times how really, really important this subject is:
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, responded: “The possibility of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials is a serious, serious matter. The investigation must be fair, independent, and impartial in every way, and the F.B.I. must be allowed to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”
Now, I'm just trying to imagine the most damning conversation I can think might conceivably have happened between some Trump campaign aide (or maybe Trump himself!) and either Putin or one of his right-hand men, like Ambassador Kislyak, or maybe even Dmitri Medvedev. I'm imagining something like this:
Trump aide (or Trump): "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space."
(Kislyak or Medvedev): "Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…"
Trump aide (or Trump): "After my election I have more flexibility."
Kislyak or Medvedev: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you."
Now there's some real collusion, right? But we know that this particular collusion was completely OK. We know that, because this is the actual transcript of a conversation between ex-President Obama and Dmitri Medvedev on March 26, 2012. Obama and Medvedev met in Seoul, South Korea, and Obama didn't realize that he was speaking on an open mic. Anyway, if there were a transcript remotely this damning involving Trump or one of his aides, you can be sure that it would have been leaked by now.
And then there is the $64,000 question: If the FBI was investigating "the possibility of coordination" between Trump campaign aides (or Trump himself) and the Russians, doesn't that necessarily mean that the FBI was wiretapping the conversations of at least some senior Trump campaign aides, if not Trump himself, during the heat of the campaign? After all, Comey has confirmed that the investigation went back at least to July. How could the FBI conduct such an investigation without wiretapping telephone conversations? Or, to put it another way, if the FBI was not tapping telephone conversations of senior Trump aides and/or Trump, was it even a real investigation?
Somehow Trump himself managed give the Democratic press the chance to divert all attention away from those obvious questions with his famous March 4 tweet ("Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower . . . .") And thus the New York Times et al. have had the opportunity to quibble over whether Obama personally gave the order for the tapping, whether it was of Trump personally, and whether it included conversations held in Trump Tower. None of which quibbles go to the heart of the matter, which is whether the FBI -- which, like all government agencies, consists 95% of partisan Democrats -- was wiretapping senior members of the Trump campaign during the thick of the election contest. I guess Trump has no one but himself to blame for the diversion. But one of the senior Republican Congressmen in the investigation, Devin Nunes, confirmed the obvious in a press release today:
- I recently confirmed that, on numerous occasions, the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.
- Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration -- details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value -- were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
Meanwhile, am I the only one who thinks that the whole "Trump is in bed with the Russians" story makes no sense? Actually I'm not, because Richard Fernandez of the Belmont Club has a post from Monday titled "Red Herring," with a roundup of many reasons why the whole thing doesn't hang together. Fernandez's main point is that everything Putin does is for Russian domestic consumption to begin with, so he wouldn't go out of his way to help either candidate.
But, getting to the next point, if Putin were to care about one thing in U.S. affairs, you would have to think that he would want our energy production hobbled. I mean, the Russian government is completely dependent on revenues from oil and gas production, and our frackers are absolutely killing him, capping the world price of oil and gas at a level where he can't pay his bills. The sustained low price of oil and gas has recently forced a massive 25% cut in Russia's defense budget. That just has to be eating away at Putin, since using an outsize military to throw weight around on the international stage is what gives him his reason to exist. Now, as between Clinton and Trump, which was the candidate who might conceivably get conned into hobbling U.S. energy production?
And then there's the tough talk of Nikki Haley at the UN. And Trump's exhorting the Europeans to spend more on their own defense and on NATO. Is any of this where Hillary would have gone? Can Putin like any of it?
Really, I wouldn't mind a bit getting proved wrong on this subject. But as of now, all I can see in the endless conspiracy theories about Russia is a weird obsession.