"Russia": Bona Fide Basis For Investigation Or Preposterous Cover Story?

It was just over a year ago -- May 25, 2017 to be precise -- that I first offered the hypothesis that the "Trump/Russia collusion" narrative was nothing more than a "preposterous . . . cover story to excuse blatantly illegal government spying on [the] Trump campaign."  That post commented on a May 23, 2017 New York Times piece that reported on Congressional testimony the same day of ex-CIA Director John Brennan, in which Brennan described supposedly "mounting concern" in the intelligence community about Russian efforts to "interfere" in the 2016 elections.  According to Brennan's testimony, as reported in the Times, that "mounting concern" led the intelligence agencies to form a group to investigate the "interference" in "late July" 2016:

In late July, officials established a group of N.S.A., C.I.A. and F.B.I. officials to investigate the election interference. The information was tightly held, and the F.B.I. took the lead on investigating potential collusion, Mr. Brennan said.    

Now I admit that from the first time I heard it I thought that this "Russia collusion" story was preposterous.  However, my initial judgment was based only on the incoherent nature of the narrative itself, and not on any particular details of it that had been shown to be false.  For example, I did not understand what "collusion" with Russia might consist of, or how it might have helped Trump win the election.  I also thought that, to justify an investigation involving the NSA, CIA and FBI, they should offer at least one or more examples of what the supposed "collusion" consisted of.  Moreover, I did not understand why it was plausible that a candidate like Trump would undertake a substantial risk by "colluding" with Russia for little or no benefit.

All those thoughts remain equally applicable today.  However, by today, much time has passed, and many more details have come out.  So let's consider some of the new information, and see which of the two hypotheses they support:  bona fide basis for investigation, or preposterous cover story?

  • What does the "collusion" consist of?  A full year after my prior post, there still is not the slightest indication of what the so-called "collusion" might consist of.  Here's the closest we have come:  Allegedly, the Russians (at Trump's behest) hacked the server of the DNC, coming up with numerous emails indicating the rigging of the Democratic primaries to advantage Hillary over Bernie; and then those emails were leaked via Wikileaks and others beginning in June and July 2016, to the detriment of Hillary in the general election.  However, although forensic evidence of a Russian hacking could be had by analyzing the server, the government has never taken possession of it or done any such analysis!  From Andrew McCarthy, National Review, May 19:  "The Obama Justice Department never took custody of the server — no subpoena, no search warrant. The server was thus never subjected to analysis by the FBI’s renowned forensics lab, and its evidentiary integrity was never preserved for courtroom presentation to a jury."  By the way, Julian Assange has repeatedly denied that his source for the emails was Russians.  So the theory that the "collusion" related to hacking the DNC server is not going to fly.  What is the next alternative?  Nothing that I have heard of.  If this whole narrative is based on some improper "collusion," couldn't somebody at this late date kindly inform us of what is the improper act by the Trump campaign that fits into that category?
  • Clapper's shifting story.  A phenomenon that regularly gets criminals convicted is that their cover story keeps shifting, as new facts come out proving that the prior cover story was false, if only in some details.  The analog here is the series of shifting stories offered up by ex-DNI James Clapper.  For example, here is Clapper in an interview by NBC News, March 5, 2017: "'[T]here was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,' Clapper told Chuck Todd in an exclusive interview on Sunday’s Meet The Press.  When Todd asked him whether he could confirm or deny if a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Act) order for this existed, Clapper declared, 'I can deny it.'"  Oops!  Then we have  Clapper on CNN, September 20, 2017:  "DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Is it possible the president was picked up in a conversation with Paul Manafort?  JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI: It's certainly conceivable.  LEMON: Is it likely?  CLAPPER: I can't say. I wouldn't want to go there, but I will say it's possible."  Most recently, there's Clapper on ABC's The View, May 22, 2018:  "With the informant business, well, the point here is the Russians," Clapper said. "Not spying on the campaign but what are the Russians doing? And in a sense, unfortunately, what they were trying to do is protect our political system and protect the campaign."  I guess in Clapper's world it doesn't count as "spying on the campaign" as long as you mention the word "Russia" somewhere within 100 words.
  • When did the government counterintelligence operation begin?  As you can see above, back last May, the official story, per sworn Congressional testimony of John Brennan, was "late July."  That story lasted until December 30, when a new "origin story" appeared in the New York Times.  "During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton."  Now Andrew McCarthy in National Review on May 22 combs the latest information, including the Majority and Minority Reports from the House Intelligence Committee.  The Majority Report, page 54, mentions that in "late spring" (i.e., no later than mid-June 2016) James Comey briefed the National Security Council on "the [Carter] Page information."  In other words, the "Trump/Russia" investigation had started right about the same time (May 2016) that Trump had emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee, and well before the leaks of the DNC emails, or even the communication to the FBI of the Papadopoulos/Downer encounter.  McCarthy concludes: "The Trump-Russia investigation did not originate with Page or Papadopoulos. It originated with the Obama administration."      
  • Where is the surveillance of the Hillary campaign?   If the intelligence agencies knew that the Russians were trying to infiltrate campaigns and interfere in the election, then clearly that concern would be equally if not more applicable to Hillary's campaign than to Trump's.  For starters, Hillary began her tenure as Secretary of State in 2009 by offering a "reset" of relations with Russia (done with a famous "Reset Button" prop).  Then there was the sale of the Uranium One company to Russians, which required the approval of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  And how about the $500,000 speaking fee to Bill Clinton in 2015 from a Russian investment bank involved in the Uranium One transaction?  Frankly, among the various corruptions of the Clintons, I always thought that the Uranium One matter was one of the less significant.  But still, this is a lot more ties to the Russians than has ever been shown for Trump.  So clearly, if the U.S. intelligence agencies were just honestly trying to protect the innocent campaigns against the threat of Russian infiltration, they would have been at least as concerned about Hillary's campaign as about Trump's.  So where is the surveillance of Hillary?  Nothing yet that I've heard of.
  • Where is the defensive briefing?  In a similar vein, if the intelligence agencies were just trying to protect campaigns against insidious threats of Russian infiltration, wouldn't they give the campaigns a heads-up about that?  The logical thing to do would be to offer a "defensive briefing" on how the Russians operate and how to protect yourself.  Is there any evidence that that occurred?  None that I'm aware of.  And I can't think of any reason why, if it had occurred, either the intelligence agencies or the Trump campaign would not have publicized it.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions.  Maybe Mueller is about to drop the bombshell of all bombshells revealing some kind of extensive "collusion" to rig the election.  All I can say is, it sure looks like the actual evidence to date supports the "preposterous cover story" hypothesis.