Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, writes in the Wall Street Journal that evidence abounds of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton.
But rather than providing evidence, he proves the opposite: Democrats have absolutely no proof of President Trump colluding with Russia. And Schiff harms himself and the country by making such wild claims. To see why, take Schiff’s points in turn.
Manafort, Papadopoulos, and Flynn
First, Schiff claims that because the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has led to charges, this must mean Mueller is on to something. Really? Paul Manafort was charged with crimes unrelated to his time as Trump’s campaign chair, and Manafort’s brief time as the campaign chair was only due to a lack of GOP operatives willing to work with Trump who understood the Byzantine process of a floor-fight at the Republican National Convention. As soon as Trump realized Manafort was problematic, he dropped him like a hot potato.
The charges against Manafort are related to him failing to disclose work for, and payments received by, foreign governments. Yes, this is a problem, but many in DC who violate this statute go unprosecuted. During the time in question—before Manafort was Trump campaign chair—Manafort was working with Tony Podesta, the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta. We are all patiently waiting for Democrat Tony Podesta, and many others who ran afoul of this law, to be charged.
George Papadopoulos, a 29-year-old, was made a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign in March 2016. At this time the Trump operation was desperate to show that Trump didn’t just get his opinions on world events from “the shows.” While in Europe, and after he was added to the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos met with a Russian “professor” on March 14, 2016. The professor introduced him to Vladimir Putin’s “niece,” and on April 26, 2016, the professor told Papadopoulos the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of her emails.
Schiff assumes the professor was talking about the WikiLeaked emails from the Democratic National Committee. As the president would say: Wrong! In April 2016, news of the DNC email theft had not been made public, and everyone living in conservative-ville was focused on finding the 30,000 emails Hillary Clinton deleted from her home-brew server. This was because many believed finding these emails would show Clinton doing favors at the State Department in return for cash from foreign actors.
And while the professor, Papadopoulos, and Putin’s “niece” talked a lot about setting up high-level meetings between Trump and Putin, absolutely nothing came from this. Papadopoulos even proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin to the Trump campaign, and the Trump camp quickly shot this idea down.
Mueller charged Papadopoulos with lying to the FBI. The “lie” was that Papadopoulos told the FBI the first meeting with the professor had occurred before he was made a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, when it occurred after he was made a foreign policy adviser. In truth, the meeting occurred after the Trump campaign had decided on Papadopoulos but before he had been officially announced.
You can be the judge on whether this was a prosecutorial gotcha, or whether Papadopoulos was purposefully lying to protect the president. Either way, as Andrew McCarthy has noted, the Papadopoulos indictment is exculpatory to President Trump, and not damning in the least bit—because the Trump campaign clearly rejected Papadopoulos’ proposals.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn also pled guilty to lying to the FBI. The lie in question occurred during an interview that took place only four days after Trump took office. Flynn was interviewed by FBI agents, including Peter Strzok (whom we’ll get to later), at the behest of former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, who sought to nail Flynn for violating the Logan Act when he communicated with the Russian ambassador during the “transition” period after Trump’s election but before the inauguration.
The act basically says that anyone outside of the executive branch can’t influence the decisions of foreign powers. Flynn allegedly did this by asking the Russian ambassador, on December 22, 2016, to delay or vote against a U.N. Security Council resolution that would declare Israeli settlements illegal (the Obama administration was planning on abstaining from the vote rather than voting against, a first for U.S. policy), and by asking the same ambassador on December 29, 2016 to not “escalate” after the Obama administration imposed last-minute sanctions on Russia (Russia did in fact not escalate, possibly due to Flynn’s request). Schiff says that this amounts to Flynn “conspiring secretly” with the Russians.
Not only do we want incoming administrations to talk to foreign powers, and not only were Flynn’s conversations totally non-nefarious, but the Logan Act, signed into law by John Adams in 1799, has been flagrantly violated since its existence, violations have never been prosecuted, and there are serious doubts about the act’s constitutionality (a question that has never been directly examined by a court).
On top of this, Yates never should have seen Flynn’s side of the conversation without a warrant, as it should have been redacted since he is a U.S. citizen. Unmasking Flynn’s side was not illegal per se, but it was an abuse of power using a loophole that Congress needs to address. The leak of that Flynn phone call to the media, which was politically framed as nefarious when it was not, was flagrantly illegal.
Aside from using the Logan Act as the pretext for investigation, the other thing out-of-the-ordinary here was the foreign policy crap sandwich Obama was trying to hand Trump only weeks before the transition of power. Outgoing presidents aren’t supposed to make big changes like this before they shuffle out the door.
Instead of being a legitimate response to Russian meddling, the action against Russia could have been purposed to hype claims of major Russian election interference. Even more egregious, Democrat politicians, including prominent senators, had been calling for a prosecution based on the non-crime of a Logan Act violation throughout the election. Is it downright appalling that politicians would call out a target, and our prosecutorial powers would dutifully aim and shoot.
The Trump Jr. Meeting in Trump Tower
Schiff then claims that the Russians “followed up” the Papadopoulos meetings with “an approach to the highest levels of the campaign—the president’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager—once again offering dirt on Mrs. Clinton as part of what was described as the “Russian government’s effort to help Mr. Trump.”
Schiff says the Trump campaign agreed to accept Russian help, and that when the Trump campaign was disappointed in what Russia offered during the meeting, Russia countered by delivering the stolen emails to WikiLeaks days later.
Baloney. The two Russians who met with the Trump team, Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, didn’t offer dirt on Clinton but instead talked about their quest for a repeal of the Magnitsky Act during the meeting. That’s a law Congress passed to penalize Kremlin associates who had a hand in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. They were doing so while working with Fusion GPS, the same firm the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign paid to come up with “evidence” of Trump and Russia collusion.
Fusion GPS was behind the now-disproven stories about a secret server communicating with Russia in Trump Tower. Fusion GPS gave Democrats’ money to former British spook Chris Steele, who possibly gave the money to alleged or former Russian intelligence agents, who spun the stories that created the infamous Trump-Russia dossier—a document that claimed Trump was under Putin’s thumb due to blackmail that involved prostitutes performing abnormal sex acts in a Moscow hotel.
This dossier is likely what sparked the FBI and Department of Justice’s investigation of Trump in the first place, even though FBI number two McCabe just testified to Congress that the only thing that could be verified in the dossier was Carter Page’s trip to Moscow—something that was already public information before the dossier was written.
Back to the Trump Tower meeting, Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson told Congress that he had no knowledge of the meeting, although he met Veselnitskaya both just before and immediately after the meeting occurred. To make things even more interesting, the only reason Veselnitskaya had the right to even be in the country at the time was due to a special entry request granted by the Obama DOJ.
Again, this was still days before the existence of any DNC email theft was made public. When a music promoter from the U.K. emailed Don Jr. to set up the meeting in Trump Tower, it is entirely possible that Don Jr. thought the promoter was referring to Hillary Clinton’s deleted 30,000 emails.
Here’s some news for the uninformed: no presidential campaign in the history of our country would have passed up the opportunity to get a hold of those missing emails. If anything, looking into these claims was a public service. If Hillary was elected, and a foreign government did have Hillary’s missing emails, she would be prone to the same blackmail that many, without evidence, are suggesting controls the actions of Donald Trump. Some say Trump Jr. should have gone to the FBI. This is the same “institution” that allowed those emails to be destroyed, no-questions-asked, in the first place. Uh-huh.
The So-Called Social Media Support
Schiff continues: “Days after the meeting in Trump Tower, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks announced receipt of the hacked DNC emails. The Russians also published stolen emails directly through their fictitious proxies, DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0. At the same time, the Russians ramped up a massive social-media campaign using an extensive network of fake personas and accounts to help the Trump campaign, vilify Mrs. Clinton and sow general discord.”
First, there are good reasons to doubt that Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks were related to the theft of emails and documents that led to the WikiLeaks disclosure, and there is even evidence that the non-damaging information Guccifer 2.0 released was harvested internally (as a side note, everything Guccifer 2.0 released was also at the fingertips of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s corrupt IT aid Imran Awan).
Second, Russia’s “massive” social media campaign amounted to about $200,000 spent between Google and Facebook, and 40 overtly pro-Trump Twitter accounts. This compares to the $90 million spent on social media advertising by the Trump campaign’s vaunted digital advertising operation. And most of the “Russian” Facebook ads ran in 2015, which, as Schiff surely knows, was not an election year.
Even the widespread narrative of Russia hacking state elections systems started to fall apart, and then went radio-silent. In general, we still don’t have conclusive evidence that Russia orchestrated a massive interference campaign during the 2016 election, despite the Russian election-hacking narrative being treated as gospel truth by the Democrats, Mueller, and the media.
Where Does the Evidence Lead, Then?
Schiff concludes: “To claim that these facts show no evidence of collusion requires a willingness to avoid seeing what is in plain sight…” Here’s what is in plain sight.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign, seeking to distract from her ethics troubles and the DNC’s mistreatment of Bernie Sanders, sought to blame Russia and the Trump campaign for the release of the DNC’s files by WikiLeaks. Crowdstrike, a private cybersecurity firm paid by Democrats, was the only party to examine the DNC’s server. The FBI was not allowed to, or did not want to, examine the server. This allowed the Clinton campaign to go into the Democrat National Convention and talk “Russia,” instead of talking about how poor Bernie was mistreated by corporatist Democrats.
Whether or not the DNC was hacked by Russia (the later phishing of the Podesta emails did credibly add to the narrative), Hillary Clinton and the DNC then paid Fusion GPS to tie Donald Trump to the alleged Russian hacking. Fusion GPS was also working directly for Russian interests at the time, to repeal an American law that was passed after the murder of an innocent man in Russian prison. In its work for the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS used Democrats’ money to interview Russians who spun tales damaging to Trump.
The result of the “information” gained by Fusion GPS from alleged Russian intelligence agents—the Trump-Russia dossier—was scooped up by an all-too-willing FBI and Obama Justice Department, after even the media wouldn’t dare publicly touch it. Deputy associate attorney general Bruce Ohr, who reported directly to Yates, met with Steele, author of the dossier, before the election, and met with Fusion GPS’s Simpson after the election. Ohr’s wife, who has ties to the CIA, worked for Fusion GPS with the specific role of trying to connect the dots between Trump and Russia.
C-suite FBI agent Peter Strzok and other top officials at the FBI and DOJ—the same who had cleared Hillary Clinton, including by changing their assessment as to whether foreign actors accessed Clinton’s server, where an honest assessment would have been highly damaging to her political future—began to investigate Trump and his campaign before the election on the basis of a dossier that was totally unverified and rife with verifiable errors.
Strzok was later added to Mueller’s crack team of investigators. It is likely that these same FBI and DOJ officials even obtained a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign, or Trump campaign associates, based on the dossier paid for with Democrat money by Trump’s political opponents.
We could know for sure, but on the issue of the FISA warrant or warrants, and on many other issues, the FBI and DOJ are currently flipping Congress the bird, refusing to even testify or present the documents that Congress has requested. After stalling, the FBI finally released pre-election texts between Strzok and his mistress, where Strzok talks about the need for an “insurance policy” because ostensibly he, FBI number two McCabe, and others “can’t take [the] risk” of Trump getting elected.
We Are in Dangerous Territory
The really sad part of all this, aside from the absence of justice in our country, is how much all this is harming America. There are some very powerful people, organizations, and an entire political party so invested in the Trump-Russia collusion story that turning up only dead-ends would be a catastrophe to their pursuit and maintenance of power.
What’s more, if it turned out that the real collusion with Russia occurred on the Democratic side, and that the whole Trump and Russia collusion narrative was cooked up by a Democrat’s presidential campaign and a corrupted Justice Department and FBI, it would be an existential crisis for the media, the Democrats, and maybe even the federal bureaucracy. Even some Republicans would have something to lose if this were the case.
Because of this, we are in dangerous territory. Like an animal trapped in a corner, many who have pushed the collusion narrative will now do and say anything to survive. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper was just on CNN and literally claimed that Trump was Putin’s “asset.” It is only so long before talk like this, including the babble coming from the likes of “Morning Joe,” will prompt some mentally deranged person to violence. Indeed, this has already happened.
On the other side, some Trump voters, who have real concerns and have been ignored for years, won’t go silently into the night if the Democrats opt for impeachment without concrete proof of a crime. This certainly seems to be where the Mueller investigation is headed. In short, Schiff, and those like him, are pulling our country dangerously close to a ledge of division where we have been before, and dare not go again. Democrats and Republicans alike in Middle America would do well to keep a level head and try to remain as unified as possible going forward. If we don’t, nobody will.