The NeverTrump movement has gone from pushing allegations that Donald Trump treasonously colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election from its rightful owner Hillary Clinton, to pretending that his attempts at business deals in Russia, which were legal and the subject of widespread reporting during the election, are evidence of unspecified crimes.
The main barrier to the Russia-Trump collusion theory — an information operation that was secretly bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, spread by a compliant media, and weaponized by the highest levels of federal agencies — is the lack of evidence for it. But that lack of evidence hasn’t been much of an obstacle for either the so-called mainstream media or the leaders of the NeverTrump movement.
The news that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pled guilty to a process crime was enough to convince them of Trump’s guilt, despite the lack of evidence. The guilty plea was reportedly related to Cohen lying to Congress about when he talked to others about attempts at a deal in Moscow. Yet the attempts at a deal in Moscow have been known for years.
In fact, a major reason anyone knows in-depth details about the Trump Tower Moscow plan that went nowhere is that Donald Trump, Jr. testified about the plans beginning more than a year ago, in front of multiple committees in 2017. Transcripts of that testimony were made publicly available last May. It’s unclear why some journalists and media activists are attempting to spin this information as shocking and new since it’s been public for months, even before this testimony. Here’s The New York Times talking about the Moscow Trump Tower in August 2017, for instance.
For the most recent hysteria, various pundits took information that had been public for years, threw some fresh wrapping paper onto it, and claimed that this public information, which clearly wasn’t evidence of treasonous collusion with the Russian government to steal an election from Hillary Clinton when it was initially reported, became new bombshell evidence because they finally managed to hear about it, despite touting themselves as experts on the matter since 2016.
The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes wrote an article headlined “How Trump’s Lies About Russia Were Exposed.” (Disclosure: This writer’s husband is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.) Hayes’ article characterizes Trump’s statements that he had no business deals in Russia’s as “lies” because the global businessman quite publicly spent many years attempting to make business deals in Russia.
Sure, Trump is technically correct, since no deal was ever actually consummated, yet Hayes accuses Trump of lying without ever pointing to a specific lie that was told. Hayes merely lists a number of Trump’s denials and says, “Virtually all of those statements were misleading. Many of them were lies,” without specifying which is which. If there’s a smoking gun here, he ought to be able to say what it is.
It’s worth remembering that Trump was the target of a partisan information campaign to portray him as a tool of Russia. It was in this context of being called a stooge of Putin, rather than a global businessman who had publicly talked about his desire to develop a property in Russia, that he said, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”
As evidence that Trump lied about whether he’d sealed property deals in Russia, Hayes points out that Trump family members have previously said Russians have bought Trump properties outside of Russia. Unless The Weekly Standard blocks Russian IP addresses, The Weekly Standard is generating revenue from Russians who read their articles online. That doesn’t, however, mean they’re doing business with Russia.
Hayes also suggests that Cohen’s admission that he was trying to do a business deal with Russia for several months in 2016, instead of just one month, is proof of something nefarious by Trump. It’s unclear what crime Trump committed here is suggested.
Hayes deliberately conflates Trump’s strenuous denials that he’s a compromised stooge of Vladimir Putin who treasonously colluded with the modern-day KGB to steal an election that apparently belonged to Hillary Clinton by birthright, with the widely known news that Trump is a global businessman who attempts deals around the globe.
NeverTrumper Bret Stephens, a columnist at The New York Times, takes it a step further. He argues that the United States should dramatically escalate tensions on the Sea of Azov by sending in U.S. warships in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. This is an unsurprising suggestion from the foreign policy wing that regularly encourages invasion in response to global conflicts.
Stephens claims that de-escalating conflict with nuclear Russia has no constituency in the United States and escalating tensions is such a good idea that the only reason Trump would oppose it is not because he’s a principled foreign policy realist uninterested in launching ill-advised wars demanded by those who refuse to actually fight them, but because Trump previously spent many years trying to build a property in Russia. It never occurs to him that Trump, and millions of other Americans, may have legitimate philosophical objections to a nuclear exchange with Moscow.
Stephens calls the breaking news that Trump is a businessman the only “sensical hypothesis” for why Trump hasn’t already done this. Seriously.
If the global businessman wanted to do global business in 2016, particularly if he lost the election, Stephens argues, then his desire to do it after his presidency ends means he can’t be trusted. The only way to be sure his business sense isn’t outweighing his foreign policy views is if he goes to war with Russia, or so the logic goes.
Stephens neglects to mention the many ways the Trump administration has been strong against Russia, including increasing liquid natural gas exports, bolstering Polish missile defense, bombing Syria, obliterating an entire Russian mercenary military unit that fired at American forces, and sanctioning Kremlin-connected Russian oligarchs and financiers. Stephens’s column ends by saying that not only do we need that “naval flotilla,” we need its political equivalent to “break the president’s efforts to strangle the special counsel.”
Again, facts are no barrier to Stephens’ call for unconstitutional action and international war. Unless super-mean tweets backed by precisely not one scintilla of executive action are “efforts to strangle” something, his claims are nonsensical. Further, regardless of what one thinks of the Robert Mueller probe, the Senate should not seek to bar the president from his constitutional authority to run the executive branch.
In The New York Post, John Podhoretz says he didn’t used to be a conspiracy theorist about Russia but now he is. See, he didn’t fall for the idea that Mike Flynn was a Russian agent. And he didn’t fall for the idea that Jeff Sessions was a Russian spy. Likewise, he didn’t fall for the notion that Carter Page and George Papadopoulos were the masterminds of a global conspiracy to steal an election. And he accurately notes that there’s no evidence that the weird meeting at Trump Tower was anything other than what all parties claim it was.
But then, he says, “I’m not such a skeptic any longer.”
He managed his way through years of a parade of fake smoking guns (I debunked two just this week), but what finally convinces him — and I’m in no way joking here — is Jerome Corsi. Jerome Corsi is somehow the one guy on earth who’s a less credible collusion mastermind than Carter Page. He also says that the old news that Trump was pursuing deals in Russia prior to his GOP nomination means the idea of a quid pro quo is “impossible to dismiss.” Uh, okay?
Anyway, apparently conspiracy theorist Corsi was the true mastermind of the international collusion conspiracy. Podhoretz admits that this conspiracy theory is “a little hard to unravel,” and he botches a bit of the discussion about who spoke with whom and when, but apparently Podhoretz believes that “Russian intel gave dirt to Assange, who informed Credico, who in turn gave Corsi a heads-up, who told Stone. Who told Trump.” Case closed?
Again, this isn’t even an accurate understanding of the craziness that Corsi has been claiming — there’s no reporting that Credico talked to Corsi, for example — but apparently it’s enough to now become a Russia conspiracy theorist.
Latching Onto False Stories
It’s true that there is much smoke surrounding Trump and Russia. But upon even the most cursory inspection, the smoke is of the “smoke and mirrors” variety rather than the “there is a fire around here” variety.
Yet whether it’s claims of a pee tape or clandestine meetings in Prague — or any of the other outlandish and unverified claims in the infamous Clinton-funded dossier; ridiculous reports that Paul Manafort managed to meet the highly surveilled Julian Assange not once, not twice, but three times in an embassy in London; or claims that Donald Trump Jr.’s Senate testimony conflicted with Cohen’s plea statements even though they didn’t — NeverTrump figures keep falling for the false stories.
Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol tweeted his belief in the difficult-to-believe Assange/Manafort story, before deleting it without explanation
Commentary’s Noah Rothman also fell prey to the story.
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg fell for NPR’s false story about Trump Jr.’s testimony. In a column of Mueller probe fan fiction (really!), he lashes out at those who are frustrated by the epidemic of false news reports and defends his error on the grounds it was an “entirely plausible story.” For all of NeverTrump’s moralistic attacks on Trump for being dishonest, it’s strange to see one of their leading lights defend falling for a falsehood and spreading it around, because it might have been true in an alternate universe. Conservatives used to mock the laughable media standard of “fake but accurate” but many have now apparently decided that “fake but plausible” is fine.
Goldberg claims he’s completely neutral in the overarching discussion of the conspiracy theory regarding Trump and Russia, but adds that Trump’s “true nature” will be exposed and “he will not look good in this fight.” Also, Mueller is “the only major player here who deserves the benefit of the doubt” and that “the one thing I know he cares about is the facts.”
Goldberg further says that those who criticize Mueller are “grifters” who are slandering him. More telling than any of that is his utter lack of curiosity about the manifest improprieties at the Department of Justice. I’m going to be honest: I’m not entirely sure this suggests neutrality or anything even close to it.
Further, it doesn’t suggest a grasp of the facts surrounding the Russia-Trump collusion narrative or Mueller’s track record as head of the FBI. I’m not just talking about his botching of the Anthrax murders, and handling of the Sandy Berger case, Scooter Libby, Ted Stevens, an “Israeli spy ring” the FBI falsely claimed was operating out of the Pentagon, and many other cases.
NeverTrumpers are receiving accolades from liberal journalists for joining with the Russia conspiracy theory. CNN’s Ryan Lizza said he hopes people remember Hayes’ bravery for pieces such as the one above.
Progressive journalist Jonathan Alter says that Hayes’ article shows “character & integrity.”
Curiously, this Strange New Respect from left-wing media activists doesn’t cite fidelity to fact as the reason for the plaudits. Instead, the praise is heaped entirely for the bravery and courage of…agreeing with Democrats and the media that Trump is gross and shouldn’t be president.
While the attaboys from the likes of Lizza and Alter might appear more akin to eulogies given the purely partisan motivations behind them, they’re nonetheless illustrative, because they highlight the legacy media standard at play in 2018: publishing false news in pursuit of impeachment is no vice, and journalism in pursuit of facts is no virtue.