Two supposed bombshell reports about Trump-Russia collusion rocked the media news cycle this weekend, but as all of the other bombshells dropped by the media, there is a lot less to the reports than the hype suggests.
The hype has given rise to a Manchurian Candidate accusation against Trump, that he is an agent of some sort of the Russians, with Vladimir Putin his controller.
Even those in NeverTrump world who won’t invoke the “Manchurian Candidate” terminology explicitly, assert that Putin must have something over on Trump to influence him.
This is not a new accusation. It was made prior to the 2016 election, and it has percolated through the Resistance and the media for over two years. This weekend the conspiracy theory gained new life from stories at The NY Times and The Washington Post.
The first story, by The NY Times, reports F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia:
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
But the article provides almost no details of the investigation or what it concluded, despite having commenced over a year-and-a-half ago. To the contrary, the Times notes:
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it….
No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials….
There is good reason to be very suspicious of this NY Times reporting in light of this sentence:
Mr. Trump had caught the attention of F.B.I. counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump demonstrably did not call on the Russians “to hack into the emails” of Hillary Clinton, which is the phrase The Times uses to describe what Trump said. In fact, Trump joked during a press conference that maybe the Russians could find the 30,000 emails Hillary deleted, as the hyperlink in the Times current article shows:
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference here in an apparent reference to Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
So the Times story shows nothing beyond political disputes that gave rise to concern, gives no details about the investigation or its conclusions, and is demonstrably biased and inaccurate in putting forth the false context of Trump allegedly calling for the Russians to hack Hillary’s emails.
In what has become a now-familiar tag-team effort, frequently as we head into a weekend, The Washington Post dropped its own supposed bombshell story, with the tantalizing headline Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration.
Both the original WaPo story and the most recent iteration after edits and additions, fail to prove the headline. The story asserts that Trump told an interpreter for a meeting in Hamburg with Putin not to share the interpreter’s notes, but admits that then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the meeting and gave a read-out to others in the administration. Assuming the claim about the interpreters notes for that Hamburg meeting is true, nothing was concealed — unless the claim is that Tillerson also is in on the supposed Russia connivance.
WaPo also mentions a conversation during a banquet in Hamburg with Putin during which only Putin’s translator was present. But that conversation took place at a crowded dinner table with other world leaders, most if not all of whom spoke English, just feet away, likely able to hear much if not all of what Trump and the interpreter were saying in English. I wrote about this Hamburg dinner at the time in July 2017, Media scoop of undisclosed Trump-Putin “meeting” at G20 falls apart, noting how WaPo had to update its initial dramatic claim that the dinner conversation was an “undisclosed meeting” with Putin:
…. It turns out the meeting wasn’t a separate meeting, but a conversation at a dinner table in the presence of numerous other leaders. WaPo then amended its story, here is a Revised Version
After his much-publicized, two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting early this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Trump chatted informally with the Russian leader for up to an additional hour later the same day.
The second meeting, undisclosed at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders, a senior administration official said. At some point during the meal, Trump left his own seat to occupy a chair next to Putin. Trump approached alone, and Putin was attended only by his official interpreter.
In a statement issued Tuesday night after published reports of the conversation, the White House said that “there was no ‘second meeting’ between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting,” it said, “is false, malicious and absurd.”
“All the leaders” circulated around the room throughout the dinner, and “President Trump spoke with many leaders,” the statement said. “As the dinner was concluding,” it said, Trump spoke “briefly” with Putin, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump.
The dinner conversation with Putin was first reported Monday by Ian Bremmer, president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, in a newsletter to group clients. Bremmer said the meeting began “halfway in” to the meal and lasted “roughly an hour.” The senior official said it began with the dessert course, but did not comment on its length….
According to that updated WaPo report, Trump walked over to where Melania and Putin were seated, which was right next to Merkel and others.
I guess it’s possible that something nefarious took place at that dinner table conversation surrounded by world leaders, but WaPo doesn’t prove that.
WaPo also mentions the Trump-Putin private meeting in Helsinki, and states that the U.S. interpreter was seen exiting with a lot of notes. But WaPo does not state that those notes are missing, or what happened to the notes other than that the administration does not want the interpreter testifying to Congress because interpreters for the president do not normally testify:
But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.
Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.
So the Helsinki meeting does not support the headline anymore than the Hamburg meetings.
WaPo mentions that “Trump also had a brief conversation with Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month” but presents no facts showing either secretiveness or deception. And WaPo acknowledges that Trump allows aides to listen in on calls with Putin.
So there really isn’t any there, there, to the WaPo story that would support the Manchurian candidate speculation sweeping the media and social media of Putin conveying instructions or otherwise running Trump as an agent through secret communications.
The sum of the NY Times and WaPo stories is to create the impression, amplified by other media and anti-Trump pundits, that Trump is illegitimate, a Manchurian candidate serving Russian masters. Yet the allegations are not proven, and are non-disprovable because they are so vague and speculative.
When reporting is both unproven and non-disprovable, there is every reason to be suspicious of the messengers.
More important, are we to believe that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have proof — actual proof — that Trump is a Manchurian candidate or otherwise compromised but have withheld that information from Congress and the public? If that is the case, then law enforcement and the intelligence community have betrayed the public interest. Or, more likely, it means there isn’t any hard proof there to begin with.
At such time as there is actual proof of wrongdoing, then we can judge. But that proof, if it exists, has not been made public or even disclosed to Congress, despite two years of searching for it.
We have been told that the goal of the Russians has been to disrupt our democratic processes, to sow discord throughout the United States and among Americans, to weaken our institutions and to delegitimize our political process. I believe those are the goals of the Russians, as it would be consistent with almost a century of Soviet and now Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts.
But if that is the goal of the Russians, then Donald Trump is not the culprit. All he did is win an election fair and square.
The people serving the Russians’ purposes are the media which weekly rolls out unproven and non-disprovable accusations of collusion that undermine our political structures and institutions, and delegitimize elections far beyond Vladimir Putin’s wildest dreams.
[Featured Image: Screenshot from opening scene of The Manchurian Candidate]