Vanity Fair writer T.A. Frank is a great example of someone who doesn’t like President Donald Trump but can still see clearly. Frank does not hide his political distaste for Trump. Some of his recent pieces on Vanity Fair’s Hive are “Farewell to John Bolton, the Only Man to Make Trump Look Sane” and “Trump’s Odds of Reelection Keep Getting Worse.” Despite this, Frank’s writings on the Russia investigation demonstrate a healthy skepticism that is lacking in much of mainstream journalism today.
Frank does not buy into the popular conservative narrative nor the left’s Trump-Russia conspiracy theory, but forms his opinions based on his investigating and research. Frank’s recent piece “What George Papadopoulos Taught me About Trump’s Counter-Theory of Collusion” demonstrates this perfectly.
Frank Is Fair to Both Sides in the Russia Investigation
In his most recent article, Frank comes to drastically different conclusions than conservatives might. He readily criticizes Trump for trying to dredge up dirt on Joe Biden and mocks Rudy Giuliani’s quest, but also defends Attorney General William Barr and the president for wanting to get to the bottom of Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
Frank explains that in 2016, some Ukrainian officials openly opposed Trump, claiming they would work to keep him from getting elected. Frank writes, “It’s not as crazy as it looks that Trump, in light of Russiagate, wants to figure out what was going on back then.”
While Frank does not buy George Papadopoulos’ claim that there was an international conspiracy working to entrap himself and the Trump campaign, he does admit that there were many “bizarre happenings” surrounding Papadopoulos’ time working for the campaign, and that the left is blatantly ignoring lingering questions. Those questions include the role of Joseph Mifsud, that American intelligence agencies likely abused their power, and that the prosecutors on the Mueller team exercised questionable behavior in regards to Papadopoulos.
In a roundabout way, a way that perhaps liberals might be able to embrace, Frank is arguing for many conservative talking points, not because he shares the right’s agenda, but because he cares more about truth than partisanship. Because of the many unanswered questions regarding the Russia investigation, Frank writes:
To solve such mysteries, then, is why Barr and others are so interested in going to Rome and Australia. And, whether or not you trust Barr and team, there is reasonable cause for them to be taking their actions.
Frank Diverts From Partisan Papadopoulos Narratives
Many of Frank’s questions center on the role Papadopoulos played in jump-starting the Russia investigation. In a detailed and riveting profile on Papadopoulos and his wife, Frank both sympathizes with the young former campaign aid and exposes his inconsistencies.
He is not afraid to give Papadopoulos credit, even when it supports a conservative narrative, but he also does not appreciate the tendency of some on the right to hold Papadopoulos up as a conservative hero. Papadopoulos himself told Frank that he feels more comfortable with someone from the Washington Post than from the Daily Caller.
Frank writes that Papadopoulos gave him access to hundreds of emails he had exchanged with the Trump campaign, many of which, to Frank’s surprise, verified key claims Papadopoulos had made regarding his work on the campaign. Frank also pointed out that the emails contradicted some of Papadopoulos’ claims in his book “Deep State Target.” Frank explains these inconsistencies like this:
I had been through many potential narratives of Papadopoulos, but now a simple one was starting to emerge: that an ambitious young man with a strong desire to impress people had most likely embellished his way into a world of trouble, relaying common rumors (e.g., that the Russians had damaging information about Hillary Clinton) as firsthand information to people like Alexander Downer. If this theory was true, then Papadopoulos’s story wasn’t about how a vital campaign operative fell into traps laid by deep-state conspirators. It was about how, in a time of Trump-Russia hysteria, a minor player could set off global earthquakes because he wanted to look big.
This synopsis of Papadopoulos seems the most likely, but neither the left nor the right have been willing to fully release Papadopoulos from the narrative they’ve laid out for him, whether that be hero or villain.
Frank Investigates How Papadopoulos Was Used
Papadopoulos’ credibility is only part of the story and probably the least important part. What is more intriguing is how he was used by the mainstream media, the left, and intelligence agencies to weave a tale of Trump-Russia collusion that entangled the nation and the Trump administration in a scandal for years.
Frank points out that even the special counsel report doesn’t do Papadopoulos justice. Instead it paints an innocuous email exchange he had with Trump campaign official Sam Clovis as sinister. Frank writes, “This sort of elision, which ran throughout the case against Papadopoulos, gave me an unfavorable impression of the Mueller team.”
Further, Frank argues that a vague statement Papadopoulos made to an Australian diplomat about the rumor that Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton was not an “adequate justification for a major FBI investigation of a presidential candidate.” Unlike conservative pundits, Frank does not immediately jump to the conclusion that the Papadopoulos story is merely being used by the intelligence agencies to cover up the FBI’s shameful reliance on the Steele dossier, although he does argue that “we all have a stake in finding out whether U.S. authorities proceeded by the book when they began to investigate the campaign of Donald Trump in 2016” and when the FBI relied on a dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign to spy on a political rival.
Investigating the 2016 Election Is Important
Frank is not against the impeachment inquiry, but he also does not believe Trump’s behavior should be used as an excuse for shutting down investigations into what happened in 2016. He writes:
Trump represents the flouting of rules by one man, but the origins of Russiagate represent the potential flouting of rules by many people. If the FBI and the intelligence community can overstep their bounds in pursuit of a president many of us hate today, they can do so against a president we like tomorrow.
Reading Frank’s piece was refreshing. It made me hopeful that the truth of what went on during the Russia investigation might actually come out and be believed by those not on the right. He demonstrates you don’t have to vote for Trump to believe the real conspiracy was more likely between the intelligence agencies and the Clinton campaign and not Trump and Russia.
When reading Frank, it’s important to see past his swipes at Trump and instead to focus on his underlying arguments, most of which turn out to be well-reasoned and fair. Perhaps Frank is a good model to follow. Although he often writes about the 2020 presidential election, his hopes for its outcome do not seem to color every one of his stories. Frank’s big achievement is striking a sensible middle ground in a time where such territory has often been abandoned by both left and right.