Some thoughts on Russia, Russia, Russia
The last post I wrote about the Donald Trump Jr. meeting was last Thursday, Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer: “there’s something very unusual about this whole thing”.
Subsequent to that post, NBC News broke the story that there were additional people at the meeting than had been disclosed previously. Nonetheless, I think my Newsmax interview that was the subject of the post has held up pretty well:
“Something just doesn’t seem right here, and I think it’s worth asking a lot of questions because this doesn’t just happen.
Somebody with her connections doesn’t just happen to show up at the doorstep of the campaign of one of the two major parties, who just secured enough delegates to win the nomination. It’s just very, very strange, and given her background and given what DOJ knew about her, something’s not adding up here.”
Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Donald Jr. pulled a Comey. Recall that in multiple appearances before Congress Comey failed to disclose his claim that President Trump allegedly asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation. Of course, no one asked him that question straight up. Yet you would have expected him to volunteer the information, as I wrote in Here’s how James Comey can wiggle out of his May 3 testimony. So too, I don’t think Donald Jr. was asked straight up to list all the people who were at the meeting when he did his sole interview with Sean Hannity. Yet you would have expected Donald Jr. to volunteer the head count, either in the interview or public statements. Comey’s failure to volunteer information has been almost entirely excused by the media, but Donald Jr’s is taken as proof of deception.
2. More Shoes Will Drop. I have no idea what they will be. Or if they will be damaging. I don’t think there has been any permanent damage so far from the latest Donald Jr. revelations. That could change, but it will have to be substantive, not procedural.
3. Most of the Public Posturing is Phony. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the posturing over interaction with Russians is almost entirely phony:
Don’t think for a second the media or other Trump opponents actually care about the substance of Trump Jr.’s emails or meeting. If they actually cared about collusion with foreign governments, the January 2017 Politico report on actual collusion between Clinton allies and the Ukrainians would not have gone down the media memory hole.
4. Don’t Trust The Media Which is Competing for Headlines. A good example of why not to trust the media on this story is the NBC scoop on the additional person at the meeting (which it turns out was 2-3 extra people). The NBC News headline was Russian Lawyer Brought Ex-Soviet Counter Intelligence Officer to Trump Team Meeting, with these introductory paragaraphs:
The Russian lawyer who met with the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counter intelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.
NBC News is not naming the lobbyist, who denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
The Russian-born American lobbyist served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship.
The title and post were subsequently changed to Former Soviet Counterintelligence Officer at Meeting With Donald Trump Jr. and Russian Lawyer, with these introductory paragraphs:
The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others on the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.
The lobbyist, first identified by the Associated Press as Rinat Akhmetshin, denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump campaign.
Born in Russia, Akhmetshin served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship. He did not respond to NBC News requests for comment Friday, but he told the AP the meeting was not substantive. “I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” he told the AP.
Notice how critical “former counterintelligence officer” was to the headline, but there was precious little in the body of the articles about that. It turns out that Akhmetshin asserts that he never was a counter-intelligence officer, he merely served as a draftee in a unit that had some counter-intelligence responsibilities, as AP reported:
Akhmetshin has been reported to have ties to Russian intelligence, a characterization he dismisses as a “smear campaign.” He’s a well-known Washington presence, lobbying for Russian interests trying to undermine the allegations of a lawyer who died in a Russian prison and is the namesake of a U.S. sanctions law.
Akhmetshin told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but he was never formally trained as a spy.
None of that denial — whether it’s true or not — was in the original NBC News story. Did they not interview him? Did they not ask? Wouldn’t it be important to such a big scoop?
It also turns out that Akhmetshin had worked for the pro-Clinton, anti-Trump oppo research firm Fusion GPS:
And that is how NBC lies by omission. Akhmetshin’s links to pro-Russia lobbying efforts and to Fusion GPS are well documented. Fusion GPS’s links to pro-Russia lobbying efforts and to the international woman of mystery, Natalia Veselnitskaya, are also known. But the fact that two Fusion GPS operatives had a meeting with Trump, Jr., at a time when their employer/prime contractor/whatever was shopping the Trump dossier doesn’t even cause a tingle of curiosity.
Maybe, probably?, Akhmetshin is downplaying his past, but there was no doubt that NBC News went for the big bang in its headline and original story. The media is competing for screaming blockbuster headlines — don’t trust those headlines until all the facts come out.
5. The Media is The Opposition Party. A post over the weekend by Mark Finkelstein highlighted some insightful comments from a former Editor of the NY Observer which stated quite succinctly why the media can’t be trusted on Russia:
KEN KURSON: So the idea here is that the media has become the opposition to Trump. Just listening to the intro to this show, listening to Fareed’s show before it, it’s no longer that the Republican point of view holds forth, and the Democrats hold them accountable, and the media covers it. It’s that the president and the White House put forth their point of view, the media argues with them, and the Democrats have become totally irrelevant to that discussion. It’s a stunning thing to watch unfold during this presidency.
BRIAN STELTER: About the irrelevancy of the Democratic party?
KURSON: Totally! And the way the press has assigned itself the chore of undoing the results of this election, which they simply don’t accept. And I think the shame of it is, we no longer have even a two-party system, which many think is too few. We have a one-party system, and the media as the other party.
STELTER: Those are opinion columns! Those are opinion columns!
KURSON: No, they’re not just opinion columns. It’s reporters. And they audition for each other, and they audition for popularity.
6. Unparalyze The Administration. President Trump can overcome Russia-mania. It’s the economy, stupid. I’ve heard that somewhere before. The best response to the attempt to paralyze the administration is to not become paralyzed. Republicans need to get their act together and start passing economic reforms, packing the courts, and otherwise getting things done. That’s not happening.
7. Anti-Trump Pundits are Competing for Their 15 Minutes of Fame. The airtime given anti-Trump pundits is directly proportional to their willingness to make stupid and hyperbolic comments. And it’s the punditry glory years for anti-Trump Republicans, like Richard Painter, Stop taking Richard Painter seriously given history of outlandish statements and treason accusations:
Richard Painter is the Vice Chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a left-wing activist group.
In December 2016, Painter replaced in the position of Vice Chair … wait for it … David Brock. Yes, that David Brock, the consummate Democratic oppo-research attack dog, leader of Media Matters, and now American Bridge. That David Brock was Vice Chair of CREW tells you everything you need to know about the group.
But you will almost never hear this part of Painter’s resume when he appears on TV, which he does quite often. You might hear that he’s a professor at U. Minnesota Law School. But most of all, you will hear that he is a former George W. Bush administration Chief Ethics Lawyer (2005-2007).
But in the age of Trump, his entree to TV commentary has been relentless Trump bashing — there is nothing the media loves more than someone who served in an Republican administration but now attacks Trump.
And Painter’s main TV role is to attack Trump in outlandish terms. I never heard of Painter — and I bet you never did either — until he started fulfilling the TV role of attacking Trump.
7. This Will Turn On Whether There is a There There. What we’ve seen so far are procedural theatrics and innuendo. That will not sink the Trump administration. As Jason Willick notes at the American Interest, Russia Scandal Looks Different Outside of Washington:
If you live in Washington and get your news from Twitter, you will have noticed a major shift after the Trump Jr. revelations….Elite conservative opinion has shifted markedly….
And yet despite this unmistakable, watershed shift, Republican voters appear to be (mostly) unmoved. This is a reminder of how marginal D.C. media is when it comes to shaping the opinion of the mass of actual conservatives in the heartland—a lesson learned during the primary election, but worth keeping in mind during this tumultuous time as well. The D.C. media environment is a simply a different world from what most conservative voters are exposed to. As long as the GOP controls both houses of Congress, it’s possible for a scandal to play out 24/7 for months on virtually all mainstream media platforms without it actually moving the needle politically.
Only if there is something significantly worse than being willing to take a meeting will this cause serious, long-lasting political damage.DONATE
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