Everything began and hinges on the “salacious and unverified” (Jim Comey’s words) Steele Dossier. This Slate article does its best to make further investigation sound promising, but I sure don’t see this investigation going anywhere. If and when Mueller puts together a conspiracy based on this narrative, it will crumble under cross examination. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but I sure as heck understand why Trump would fight like heck against this investigation, seeing how the Clinton Campaign paid unnamed Russian operatives to deliver the dirt to the FBI.
This article doesn’t go into any detail as to all the glaring problems with the dossier. I don’t blame Slate for that – it’s the point of the article to rehabilitate the dossier and Steele’s reputation. It’s written, in fact, because the whole story is being effectively discredited.
We know the Russian contacts who were paid to give this info to Steele were comically wrong regarding Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s invented Prague meeting (http://www.businessinsider.com/michael-cohen-trump-2017-1) – it was the wrong Michael Cohen, it turns out. The Moscow hotel “incident” was debunked by Trump’s bodyguard and eyewitness (and a person with an actual name!), although it appears to be true that somebody was trying to set something up with five prostitutes and was sent packing by the bodyguard and Trump. Then, the dossier sources jump to the conclusion that makes their information (for sale, btw) sizzle and pop. The sources offer a few other chestnuts that appear to maybe have some truth in them – people associated with Trump’s campaign met with Russians. But, trying to make anything out of Trump Jr.’s meeting with those Russian lawyers is really a stretch – unless we are now saying it is illegal for the GOP to conduct oppositon research but perfectly OK for the DNC to actually pay for it (from Russian sources, no less).
So, Russian contacts approached Trump’s team offering prostitutes and stolen goods. The evidence from people with real names and jobs to do are making it pretty clear that they weren’t interested in buying illicit stuff. But we have in this hotel case a situation in which the unnamed sources say Trump was jumping into such deals with great gusto. The evidence supports otherwise: The Trump team politely listened, say no thank you, and nothing further took place.
Also, this idea that the Russians swayed Sanders supporters with their god-awful pro-Trump web ads says more about how little establishment Democrats think of Bernie supporters than it says about Trump dirty trickstering.
The Russian propaganda effort, apart from stealing Podesta’s emails, was embarrassingly shoddy work (although we are supposed to believe the Bernie Bros were swayed by it). Of course, we know the Russians tried to hack the RNC as well. Apparently, it worked on the DNC because Podesta’s password was “password”. Speaking for myself, I had Russians searching our server for vulnerabilities for years – Russians love coming to our website. The amount of Russian supposed interest in our company’s products far outstripped any actual interest anyone there has in buying anything from us. But you talk, listen, and you may actually take a meeting. But going from a meeting to conducting actual business – well I’d like to see some real evidence there, as would the FBI, I’m sure. And of course, a business like Trump’s is going to be looking for business opportunities, e.g., a Trump Tower in Moscow most certainly. Lots of snooping around for sure. It made Bill Clinton a multimillionaire to snoop around for opportunity in those regions.
So no doubt Trump associates have met with Russians and Ukrainians over the years, as I have as well, as a businessman. And as had the Clinton family, it appears. If you are looking to make money you go where the money is, and of course the Russians know this.
It seems the effort here to nail the President will rise or fall with this contention that Michael Cohen paid Russians to hack the DNC and Clinton. I suppose that might be plausible, but whenever we hear of the evidence behind what went on in any of these meetings breathlessly reported by Slate here, the actual facts tend to show the Trump operatives may be interested initially, and do their own fact collecting, but then throw cold water on anything further, basically brushing them off. If the Russians were selling, the Trump operation was a rather cheap prospect. They probably were too arrogant to even think the Russians could provide any help (and if so, rightly so, as the Trump campaign was far more sophisticated than any Russian propaganda endeavors). But, it never hurts to talk when approached, so you talk, sometimes even when you are talking with people who are shady, and talk a big game. But then you walk away when you realize they have little of anything of real value to offer. If we find a check made out by a Trump campaign official to a hacking operation, like we found in Watergate, I’ll sit up.
Why do Trump folks say they don’t remember or didn’t meet with Russians? It could be nefarious – they are hiding dirty deeds.,” It could be they just want to stop the investigation by saying they didn’t meet with Russians because if they do admit it, it will lead to 50 more questions and a leaked story by an anonymous source on how the Trump campaign met with Russians. Or it could be they get careless with their language and events: they don’t always consider every encounter a “meeting.” I don’t consider every salesman who comes pushing a product to me a “meeting.” The FBI knows all this. Turns out they were real upset about that reporter who got wind of the Tarmac meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. They did not want to have to deal with the repercussions – better to hide and hope no one notices. It certainly made Comey’s job more difficult. The FBI is still trying real hard to keep meetings and other messy details hidden.
Flynn spoke to Russians during the transition about easing some last minute sanctions placed on them by the Obama administration. We’ll see if this was simply a matter of the Trump administration wanting to begin with a clean slate. That actually seems to be the Trump method – remember how he trashed China as currency manipulators during the campaign, but has been very gracious with its leaders from day one. Most everyone can agree that a new administration wants to open with a fresh start and see where it goes. Obama certainly wanted to start things off in a different direction with Arab nations in his so called “apology tour”: Hey, we’re going to be different now. Let’s all start off on a new foot.
If Manafort made money by changing the phrase on Ukraine in the GOP platform, that seems suspicious. But Manafort will be inclined to give his own spin on that topic in a platform, since he is an expert in Ukrainian politics (if little else, it appears). He loosened some language that was much tougher, going from “providing (Ukraine) lethal defensive weapons” to calling for “appropriate assistance.” It reminds me a little but of the FBI operative who changed the Hillary Clinton findings from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.” “Appropriate assistance” certainly leads to the same conclusion, while sounding less belligerent. The GOP will assist in defending the Ukraine, KEEPING ALL OPTIONS OPEN. I don’t know what that change is worth monetarily, seeing how platforms are worth the paper they are printed on. But good luck finding a quid pro quo here.
That is why it is surprising to me the Clinton campaign paid to have this dossier developed. I suppose the Steele credibility (i.e., his reputation) that the Slate article tries to establish made it appear to be a good investment. We know there were connections between the FBI people who strongly supported Clinton and Fusion GPS, who contracted out to Steele for the dirt. And when you pay for dirt, you expect to get dirt. And then, of course, the sellers of sellers of the dirt are motivated to hype what they have. And what you end up with is a lot of made up stuff, with enough plausibility to keep the customer coming for more. There are reports of meetings and prostitutes, and apparently claims that money exchanged hands.
So there is a lot of motivation here to oversell the dossier: Steele is in business, as is Fusion GPS, of providing juicy stuff, and they have bills to pay.
The obsession certain news outlets have to breathlessly follow this through anonymous sources day after day will lead to disappointment, much like the birther birth certificate story was for many, because the bottom line there was, even if his detractors are right, and Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia or wherever, he was duly elected President of the United States, and you aren’t going to serve any good purpose in beginning an impeachment proceeding over such a thing. But people are mentally invested in having it proven they are right. It’s an obsession, however, that isn’t worth it. There is a lot other news of more interest that. I’m amazed at how little time there is on certain outlets to cover anything but Trump bashing. But, there is money to be made in it: ask Glen Beck what kind of career can take off when you focus anger at the winning candidate for the supporters of the losing candidate.
I’m inclined to go with Rep. and House Oversight chair Trey Gowdy on this: let Mueller investigate and see what the facts are. Speaking for myself. I hope Mueller has the ability and wisdom to do what so many other special prosecutors couldn’t do: to stop if he’s beating a dead horse and to wrap it up if he knows he has nothing worthy of prosecuting. But Gowdy is correct when he indicates, as an important member of a committee conducting its oversight work, that the shenanigans surrounding this whole operation needs a complete airing as well. The FBI is having a real hard time being trtransparent here and we badly need oversight here because of it.
The end result, hopefully, is a little more draining of the swamp that led the FBI to get overly involved in partisan politics.