The New York Times’ Russian Reset continues.
My weekend column argued that the Democrats and the media are scrambling to pull together a new origination account of the Trump-Russia collusion narrative. The original origination account has become a political liability because it centered on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who featured prominently in the so-called Steele dossier. The dossier, a compilation of Russia-sourced reports authored by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, is now known to have been a Clinton campaign-funded opposition-research project. Though its key allegations seem never to have been verified by the FBI, the dossier was apparently used by the Obama Justice Department in applying to the FISA court for a surveillance warrant targeting Page as a Russian agent enmeshed in a corrupt plot against the 2016 election.
On cue, the Times has now published a defensive op-ed by the two founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that produced the Steele dossier. What is most striking about this offering by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch is what it studiously avoids addressing: the specific allegations in the dossier.
Simpson and Fritsch, former Wall Street Journal reporters, decry “the Republicans’ fake investigations” of the Obama Justice Department’s use of the dossier. Indeed, they lead with the obligatory Watergate comparison to Republicans seeking to protect Richard Nixon — notwithstanding that a more apt comparison would be to the Nixon administration’s efforts to use intelligence agencies to spy on political adversaries. Yet, while the authors attest to the sterling reputation of Steele, they elide any mention of his claims — i.e., of the sensational allegations of a traitorous conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that Fusion GPS, while working for the Clinton campaign, generated and tried mightily to publicize through the Clinton-friendly media.
Instead, Simpson and Fritsch erect a strawman: What their work has really been about, they now say, is “decipher[ing] Mr. Trump’s complex business past.” This includes scrutinizing financial ties between Trump’s business conglomerate and Russian interests. It is from this effort that Republicans and other Obama administration critics are supposedly trying to deflect attention.
Nonsense. Unlike the Obama-Clinton Left, many of us on the national-security right believed that the murderous, anti-American Putin regime was a threat to U.S. interests long before the wee hours of November 9, 2016, when Trump was declared the winner of the election and Democrats suddenly decided Russia was the evil empire. We were saying Putin was a problem back when Obama was mocking Mitt Romney for saying so; when Mrs. Clinton was running around with her “Reset” button; when the Clinton Foundation was lapping up Russian money; when Obama was whispering to Putin’s factotum, Dimitri Medvedev, about all the “flexibility” he’d have to accommodate Russia after the 2012 election; and when the Obama administration was permitting the transfer of U.S. uranium-mining rights to a Putin regime–controlled energy company at a time when the Obama Justice Department chose not to bring a prosecutable racketeering case against that company’s U.S. affiliate.
If Simpson and Fritsch have information about alarming Trump financial ties to the Kremlin, we’re all ears. Trump’s campaign blandishments toward Putin were sufficiently offensive that they made it difficult for many Republicans — and for some, impossible — to back him. (Indeed, had it not been for the Clinton ties to Russia, and Obama’s years of appeasing Russia, this issue would surely have gotten more traction.) Congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have supported a comprehensive investigation of Russian treachery — in connection with the 2016 election and whatever else. We’ve said from the start that if there is evidence of real criminality and other corrupt dealing between the Kremlin and Trump, it should be investigated and exposed.
What we object to, however, are (a) the lack of even-handedness in the Justice Department and FBI’s manner of conducting the Clinton and Trump investigations, which can only be explained by partisanship; and (b) the politicized inflation of what appear to be non-criminal contacts with Russia — the kind of unsavory contacts that the Obama administration and the Clinton Foundation tried to normalize — into a “collusion” narrative aimed at convincing the public that Trump and Putin engaged in an espionage conspiracy.