Incoming elected administrations, especially the Obama transition team of 2008 in the case of Russia and Iran, seek contacts with foreign diplomats before formally entering office.
Most presidential campaigns are staffed by at least a few free-lancing opportunists who see their candidate as a nexus for profiteering. There is no need for a reminder of the lucrative careers of Bill Clinton from 2009-2012, or of Hillary Clinton’s brother, or of the nature of some of John Podesta’s investments. And foreign governments, our own included as in the case of the Obama Administration’s entrance into the Israeli elections, are frequently accused of trying to sway or indeed interfere with another nation’s campaign cycles.
Yet what is strange about the charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is that those landscapes were concocted into something supposedly criminal and uniquely applicable to Donald Trump’s election and presidency. Indeed, one of the strangest events in recent political history was the post-election false news narrative that Trump and the “Russians” had colluded during the campaign to rob Hillary Clinton of a sure victory.
The discredited concoction lingers to this day, despite the fact that former FBI Director James Comey on three occasions told Trump that he was not the subject of any investigation about collusion with the Russians.
Both the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan (both foes of Trump) at various times admitted that there was no intelligence, to their knowledge, that implicated Trump as a colluder with Vladimir Putin to gain advantage over Clinton. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson seconded that consensus by conceding there was no evidence of any Trump campaign effort to persuade the Russian to alter the elections. In a more general sense, Barack Obama (who had intelligence reports of Russian election-cycle hacking) three weeks before the election, and the assumed certain victory of Hillary Clinton, had dismissed entirely the idea that any party could taint a U.S. election. Obama went on to accuse Trump of whining for even suggesting that the impending election might be questioned by impropriety.
Even news producers at CNN, the chief engine that drove the collusion fairy tale, were caught on camera admitting that the entire story was mostly “bulls—t”. And one producer added, “And so I think the president is probably right to say, ‘Look, you are witch hunting me.’” Recently, three staffers, including a reporter and an executive editor, resigned from CNN in disgrace for peddling more fake news accounts of collusion between Trump and the Russians.
Who Really Blew the Election?
The logic of the collusion yarn was always somewhat ridiculous.
Hillary Clinton lost the election largely for three reasons, none of them having anything to do with Russia, and all within her power to have rectified.
1) Clinton was a poor candidate: prone to offensive outbursts, appearing haughty and curt, mired in a variety of email server and Clinton Foundation scandals, whose voice, mannerisms, and attitude turned off precisely those middle-class voters critical to her candidacy;
2) Strategically, Clinton ran an incompetent campaign, turning over its direction to an inexperienced amateur and thirtysomething Robby Mook, who wasted resources by strangely believing that it was more important to run up a mandate by flipping solidly red states than first ensuring that her “blue wall” was secure;
3) Clinton never offered a political message other than the novelty of becoming the first female president. She failed to appreciate that Obama’s progressivism had grown unpopular, while his transient 2016 personal popularity and past Electoral College success were not transferrable to a white 69-year-old multimillionaire like herself—even as the downside of his negatives and his unpopular agenda certainly were.
Who Appeased the Russians?
Prior to November 2016 any writ of Russian collusion was usually lodged against the Obama Administration. Its much heralded but failed “reset” policy had been aimed at George W. Bush’s supposed overreaction in 2008 to Putin’s aggression in Georgia.
Reset was always marketed by ridiculing Bush and overturning his estrangement with Putin: missile-defense in eastern Europe dropped; Russian cyberattacks unanswered; private, hot-mic assurances that Obama would need “space” for Putin not to press him before the election so he could later, when reelected, respond with “flexibility” (a de facto admission of a sort of election-era collusion); ridicule accorded Mitt Romney by Obama for stating that Putin’s Russia was an existential enemy.
Indeed, most prominent Republicans were long at odds with the Obama Administration’s inexplicable appeasement of Putin as he gobbled up Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and, on an American invitation, reentered the Middle East after a Russian hiatus of more than 45 years. House Intelligence Committee leader Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) had harped for years on the dangers of unanswered Russian aggression, the administration’s intelligence failures, and the existential threat Putin had posed to American interests—most dramatically by hiring hackers to distort American campaigns.
How the media was able in a matter of hours after the election to rebrand Democrats as anti-Russian hawks and Republicans as colluders with Putin is one of the strangest and yet most successful political fabrications in recent history.
Genesis of a Lie
To understand the Russian metamorphosis, it is important to return to the last few months of the 2016 campaign. Hillary Clinton enjoyed a wide lead in nearly almost all the polls. Esteemed prognosticators insisted that her odds of winning the Electoral College were more than 80 percent. The media, eager to push a Democratic narrative, the progressive Left, and Never Trump conservatives ritually denounced a buffoonish sure loser Donald Trump. All gleefully vied with each other in predicting just how much damage Trump’s catastrophic loss would do to the Republican Party.