The Epstein Case: Everyone’s a Conspiracy Theorist

The only problem with the term is the meaningless use of it as a pejorative, writes Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone
CaitlinJohnstone.com

Plutocratic propaganda outlet MSNBC has run a spin segment about the medical examiner’s determination of the cause of Jeffrey Epstein’s death “pending further information.”

“Our sources are still saying that it looks like suicide, and this is going to set conspiracy theorists abuzz I fear,” said NBC correspondent Ken Dilanian. “NBC News has been hearing all day long that there are no indications of foul play, and that this looks like a suicide and that he hung himself in his cell.”

Dilanian, who stumbled over the phrase “conspiracy theorists” in his haste to get it in the first soundbite, is a known asset of the Central Intelligence Agency. This is not a conspiracy theory, this is a well-documented fact. A 2014 article in The Intercept titled “The CIA’s Mop-Up Man” reveals email exchanges obtained via Freedom of Information Act request between Dilanian and CIA public affairs officers which “show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication.” There is no reason to give Dilanian the benefit of the doubt that this cozy relationship has ended, so anything he puts forward can safely be dismissed as CIA public relations.

When I mentioned Dilanian’s CIA ties on MSNBC’s Twitter video, MSNBC deleted its tweet and then re-shared it without mentioning Dilanian’s name. Here is a screenshot of the first tweet followed by an embedded link to the current one (which I’ve archived, just in case):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up until the news broke that Epstein’s autopsy has been unable to readily confirm suicide, mass media headlines everywhere have been unquestioningly blaring that that was known to have been the cause of the accused sex trafficker’s death. This despite the fact that the FBI’s investigation has been explicitly labeling it an “apparent suicide,” and despite the fact that Epstein is credibly believed to have been involved in an intelligence-tied sexual blackmail operation involving many powerful people, any number of whom stood to gain plenty from his death.

Berating by Mass Media Narrative Managers

So, things are moving in a very weird way, and people are understandably weirded out. The response to this from mass media narrative managers has, of course, been to berate everyone as “conspiracy theorists.”

Jeffrey Epstein: How conspiracy theories spread after financier’s death,” reads a BBC headline. Epstein Suicide Conspiracies Show How Our Information System Is Poisoned,” reads one from The New York Times. Conspiracy Theories Fly Online in Wake of Epstein Death,” warns The Wall Street JournalFinancier Epstein’s Death Disappoints Victims, Launches Conspiracy Theories,” reads the headline from U.S.- funded Voice of America.

These outlets generally match Dilanian’s tone in branding anyone who questions the official story about Epstein’s death as a raving lunatic. Meanwhile, normal human beings all across the political spectrum are expressing skepticism on social media about the “suicide” narrative we’re all being force-fed by the establishment narrative managers, many of them prefacing their skepticism with some variation on the phrase “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but…”

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist but there are an awful lot of very powerful people who would like to see this Epstein thing go away. Is anyone investigating the guard on duty?” tweeted actor Patricia Heaton.

“I am not into conspiracy theories. But Epstein had destructive information on an extraordinary number of extraordinarily powerful people. It is not easy to commit suicide in prison. Especially after being placed on suicide watch. Especially after already allegedly trying,” tweeted public defender Scott Hechinger.

Journalist Abi Wilkinson summed up the silliness of this widespread preface very nicely, tweeting, “ ‘I’m not a conspiracy theorist’ is such a weird assertion when you think about it, the idea there’s a binary between believing all conspiracies and flat out rejecting the very concept of conspiracy in all circumstances.”

Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that we are all conspiracy theorists if we’re really honest with ourselves. Not everyone believes that the official stories about 9/11 and the JFK assassination are riddled with plot holes or what have you, but I doubt that anyone who really sat down and sincerely grappled with the question “Do powerful people conspire?” would honestly deny it. Some are just more self-aware than others about the self-evident reality that powerful people conspire all the time, and it’s only a question of how and with whom and to what extent.

Dictionary Definition

The word “conspire” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement.” No sane person would deny that this is a thing that happens, nor that this is likely a thing that happens to some extent among the powerful in their own nation. This by itself is a theory about conspiracy per definition, and it accurately applies to pretty much everyone. Since it applies to pretty much everyone, the label is essentially meaningless, either as a pejorative or as anything else.

The meaningless of the term has been clearly illustrated by Russiagate, whose adherents react with sputtering outrage whenever anyone points out that they’re engaged in a conspiracy theory, despite the self-evident fact that that’s exactly what it is: a theory about a band of powerful Russian conspirators conspiring with the highest levels of the U.S. government. Their objection is not due to a belief that they’re not theorizing about a conspiracy, their objection is due to the fact that a highly stigmatized label that they’re accustomed to applying to other people has been applied to them. The label is rejected because its actual definition is ignored to the point of meaninglessness.

The problem has never been with the actual term “conspiracy theory;” the problem has been with its deliberate and completely meaningless use as a pejorative. The best way to address this would be a populist move to de-stigmatize the label by taking ownership of it. Last month Cornell University professor Dave Callum tweeted, “I am a ‘conspiracy theorist’. I believe men and women of wealth and power conspire. If you don’t think so, then you are what is called ‘an idiot’. If you believe stuff but fear the label, you are what is called ‘a coward’.”

This is what we all must do. The debate must be forcibly moved from the absurd question of whether or not conspiracies are a thing to the important question of which conspiracy theories are valid and to what degree.

And we should probably hurry. Yahoo News reported earlier this month that the FBI recently published an intelligence bulletin describing “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat, and this was before the recent spate of U.S. shootings got establishment narrative-makers pushing for new domestic terrorism laws. This combined with the fact that we can’t even ask questions about extremely suspicious events like Jeffrey Epstein’s death without being tarred with this meaningless pejorative by the mass media thought police means we’re at extreme risk of being shoved into something far more Orwellian in the near future.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a  book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.” 

This article was re-published with permission.

Before commenting please read Robert Parry’s Comment PolicyAllegations unsupported by facts, gross or misleading factual errors and ad hominem attacks, and abusive language toward other commenters or our writers will be removed.




Russiagate is Dead, but for the Political Establishment, it is Still the New 42

Craig Murray offers a guide to a judge’s conclusion that claims made as the basis of Russiagate are insufficient to even warrant a hearing. 

By Craig Murray
CraigMurray.org.uk

Douglas Adams famously suggested that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. In the world of the political elite, the answer is Russiagate. What has caused the electorate to turn on the political elite, to defeat Hillary
Clinton and to rush to Brexit? Why, the evil Russians, of course, are behind it all.

It was the Russians who hacked the Democratic National Commitee and published Hillary’s emails, thus causing her to lose the election because… the Russians, dammit, who cares what was in the emails? It was the Russians. It is the Russians who are behind WikiLeaks, and Julian Assange is a Putin agent (as is that evil Craig Murray). It was the Russians who swayed the 1,300,000,000 dollar presidential election campaign result with 100,000 dollars of Facebook advertising. It was the evil Russians who once did a dodgy trade deal with Aaron Banks then did something improbable with Cambridge Analytica that hypnotized people en masse via Facebook into supporting Brexit.

All of this is known to be true by every Blairite, every Clintonite, by the BBC, by CNN, by the Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post. “The Russians did it” is the article of faith for the political elite who cannot understand why the electorate rejected the triangulated “consensus” the elite constructed and sold to us, where the filthy rich get ever richer and the rest of us have falling incomes, low employment rights and scanty welfare benefits. You don’t like that system? You have been hypnotized and misled by evil Russian trolls and hackers.

[Whether Trump and/or Brexit were worthy beneficiaries of the popular desire to express discontent is an entirely different argument and not one I address here].

Except, Not True 

Except virtually none of this is true. Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inability to defend in person his deeply flawed report took a certain amount of steam out of the blame Russia campaign. But what should have killed off “Russiagate” forever is the judgement of Judge John G. Koeltl of the Federal District Court of New York.

In a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee against Russia and against WikiLeaks, and against inter alia Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Julian Assange, for the first time the claims of collusion between Trump and Russia were subjected to actual scrutiny in a court of law. And Judge Koeltl concluded that, quite simply, the claims made as the basis of Russiagate are insufficient to even warrant a hearing.

The judgement is 81-pages long, but if you want to understand the truth about the entire “Russiagate” spin it is well worth reading it in full. Otherwise let me walk you through it.

This is the crucial point about Koeltl’s judgement. In considering dismissing a case at the outset in response to a motion to dismiss from the defense, the judge is obliged to give the plaintiff every benefit and to take the alleged facts described by the DNC as true. The stage of challenging and testing those facts has not been reached. The question Koeltl is answering is this. Accepting for the moment the DNC’s facts as true, on the face of it, even if everything that the Democratic National Committee alleged happened, did indeed happen, is there the basis for a case? And his answer is a comprehensive no. Even the facts alleged to comprise the Russiagate narrative do not mount up to a plausible case.

The consequence of this procedure is of course that in this judgement Koeltl is accepting the DNC’s “facts.” The judgement is therefore written entirely on the assumption that the Russians did hack the DNC computers as alleged by the plaintiff (the Democratic National Committee), and that meetings and correspondence took place as the DNC alleged and their content was also what the DNC alleged. It is vital to understand in reading the document that Koeltl is not stating that he finds these “facts” to be true. Doubtless had the trial proceeded many of them would have been challenged by the defendants and their evidentiary basis tested in court. It is simply at this stage the only question Koeltl is answering is whether, assuming the facts alleged all to be true, there are grounds for trial.

Judge Koeltl’s subsequent dismissal of the Russiagate nonsense is a problem for the mainstream media and their favorite narrative. They have largely chosen to pretend it never happened, but when obliged to mention it have attempted to misrepresent this as the judge confirming that the Russians hacked the DNC. It very definitely and specifically is not that; the judge was obliged to rule on the procedural motion to dismiss on the basis of assuming the allegation to be true. Legal distinctions, even very plain ones like this, are perhaps difficult for the average cut and paste mainstream media stenographer to understand. But the widespread failure to report the meaning of Koeltl’s judgement fairly is inexcusable.

The key finding is this. Even accepting the DNC’s evidence at face value, the judge ruled that it provides no evidence of collusion between Russia, WikiLeaks or any of the named parties to hack the DNC’s computers. It is best expressed here in this dismissal of the charge that a property violation was committed, but in fact the same ruling by the judge that no evidence has been presented of any collusion for an illegal purpose, runs through the dismissal of each and every one of the varied charges put forward by the DNC as grounds for their suit.

Judge Koeltl goes further and asserts that WikiLeaks, as a news organization, had every right to obtain and publish the emails in exercise of a fundamental First Amendment right. The judge also specifically notes that no evidence has been put forward by the DNC that shows any relationship between Russia and WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks, accepting the DNC’s version of events, merely contacted the website that first leaked some of the emails, in order to ask to publish them. 

Judge Koeltl also notes firmly that while various contacts are alleged by the DNC between individuals from Trump’s campaign and individuals allegedly linked to the Russian government, no evidence at all has been put forward to show that the content of any of those meetings had anything to do with either WikiLeaks or the DNC’s emails.

No Evidence

In short, Koeltl dismissed the case entirely because simply no evidence has been produced of the existence of any collusion between WikiLeaks, the Trump campaign and Russia. That does not mean that the evidence has been seen and is judged unconvincing. In a situation where the judge is duty bound to give credence to the plaintiff’s evidence and not judge its probability, there simply was no evidence of collusion to which he could give credence. The entire Russia-WikiLeaks-Trump fabrication is a total nonsense. But I don’t suppose that fact will kill it off.

The major implication for the Assange extradition case of the Koeltl judgement is his robust and unequivocal statement of the obvious truth that WikiLeaks is a news organization and its right to publish documents, specifically including stolen documents, is protected by the First Amendment when those documents touch on the public interest.

These arguments are certainly helpful to Assange in the extradition case. But it must be noted that the extradition request has been drafted to try to get around the law by alleging that WikiLeaks was complicit in the actual theft of documents by Chelsea Manning. Judge Koeltl does not address this question as he was presented with no evidence that WikiLeaks had contact with the “hackers” prior to their obtaining the documents, so the question did not arise before him. In the extradition request, the attempt is to argue that Assange encouraged and abetted Manning in obtaining the material. This is supposed to be a different argument.

In fact, this attempt to undermine the First Amendment has no merit. Cultivation of an insider source is a normal part of journalistic activity, and encouraging an official to leak material in the public interest is an everyday occurrence in such cultivation. In the “Watergate” precedent, for example, the “Deep Throat” source, Mark Felt of the FBI, was cultivated and encouraged over a period by Bob Woodward. In addition to which, Manning’s access to the documents could not be characterized as “theft.” Leaking of official secrets by an insider is a very different thing to a hack from outside.

And in conclusion, I should state emphatically that while Judge Koeltl was obliged to accept for the time being the allegation that the Russians had hacked the DNC as alleged, in fact this never happened. The emails came from a leak not a hack. The Mueller Inquiry’s refusal to take evidence from the actual publisher of the leaks, Julian Assange, in itself discredits his report. Mueller should also have taken crucial evidence from Bill Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who has explained in detail why an outside hack was technically impossible based on the forensic evidence provided. 

The other key point that proves Mueller’s Inquiry was never a serious search for truth is that at no stage was any independent forensic independence taken from the DNC’s servers, instead the word of the DNC’s own security consultants was simply accepted as true. Finally no progress has been made – or is intended to be made – on the question of who killed Seth Rich, while the pretend police investigation has “lost” his laptop. 

Though why anybody would believe Robert Mueller about anything is completely beyond me. 

So, there we have it. Russiagate as a theory is as completely exploded as the appalling Guardian front page lie published by Kath Viner and Luke Harding fabricating the “secret meetings” between Paul Manafort and Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy. But the political class and the mainstream media, both in the service of billionaires, have moved on to a stage where truth is irrelevant, and I do not doubt that Russiagate stories will thus persist. They are so useful for the finances of the armaments and security industries, and in keeping the population in fear and jingoist politicians in power.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.

This article is from CraigMurray.org.uk.

Before commenting please read Robert Parry’s Comment PolicyAllegations unsupported by facts, gross or misleading factual errors and ad hominem attacks, and abusive language toward other commenters or our writers will be removed.




PATRICK LAWRENCE: Finally Time for DNC Email Evidence

The crumbling of Russiagate focuses attention on the considerable evidence that Russian intelligence agencies charged with intrusion into DNC servers had nothing to do with it. 

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Three years after the narrative we call Russiagate was framed and incessantly promoted, it crumbles into rubble as we speak. The mini-empire of allegations, presuppositions, fallacious syllogisms, leaps of logic, imagined connections and mis– and disinformation marshaled to support charges of Russian interference in the 2016 elections is more or less a ruin.

The total collapse of the Russiagate orthodoxy now appears within reach — this for the first time since the Democratic National Committee set the narrative in motion after its email servers were compromised during the Trump–Clinton presidential contest. There is a good chance — though this is not a certainty — that Attorney General William Barr’s just-launched investigation will fully expose the numerous charges of Russian intervention as fabrications. Evidence of these fabrications, long available but ignored in a remarkably prevalent case of willful blindness, continues to grow such that it may be difficult to obscure it much longer.

It is now officially acknowledged that there is no credible evidence that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. At this point, the demonstrably bogus assertion that Russian intelligence hacked into the DNC’s email system in mid–2016 is the one remaining feature of the Russiagate orthodoxy that is commonly considered rock solid.

The mythology on this question remains deeply embedded, the absence of any supporting evidence notwithstanding. Press and broadcast reports rarely miss an opportunity to cast Russian responsibility for the DNC email intrusion as a foregone conclusion. But this, too, is a tower built on sand. To put Russiagate decisively in the past now comes to demolishing this last, unsound edifice. The rest is already too discredited for anyone but naïve liberals, wishful-thinking “progressives” and the most committed ideologues to take seriously.
This focuses attention on the evidence — considerable and accumulating — that Russian intelligence agencies, officially charged with intrusion into the DNC’s servers, had nothing to do with it. It is now two years since technically qualified intelligence professionals of long experience reported via Consortium News that the theft of Democratic Party email in 2016 was neither a hack nor a Russian intelligence operation. In July 2017 Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity presented persuasive evidence that the DNC’s servers had been compromised by someone with direct access to them.

The email messages subsequently posted by WikiLeaks had been pilfered by an insider of unknown identity: This was the conclusion VIPS drew in VIPS50, the group’s report on the mail incident, on the basis of the evidence it had gathered while working with other independent forensic investigators. The “hack,” in short, was not a hack. It was a leak.

A cacophony of objections erupted after Consortium posted VIPS50. Much — vastly too much — has been made of a group of “dissenters” within the VIPS organization who did not endorse the report. But neither these dissenters nor the many others attempting to discredit VIPS50 have succeeded in doing so. No countervailing evidence from any quarter has been presented. Based on continuing research, VIPS subsequently altered some of its initial conclusions, as noted in this space a year ago. But its principal findings stand.

VIPS50 

This puts VIPS50, while still officially excluded from the record, among the most consequential documents to be published since the Russiagate narrative took shape three years ago. If we are to recover from the destructive, divisive nightmare Russiagate has become, VIPS50 will be key to the process. There are indications now that its findings, based on impartially conducted data analysis and forensic science, will soon get the consideration they have deserved from the first. My sources suggest Barr’s office is making use of VIPS report and subsequent findings as it begins its investigation into the genesis of the Russiagate allegations.   

Much anticipation preceded the publication in mid–April of the report on Russian interference completed in the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Contrary to prevalent expectations, however, the 448–page document failed to confirm the case for Russiagate and did much to weaken it. Not only did the report conclude that neither President Trump nor anyone in his campaign colluded with Russia as he fought the 2016 election; it also made clear that the special counsel’s office did not undertake a credible investigation of the charge that Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s mail servers.

Mueller failed to call numerous key witnesses, among them Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and publisher, and Bill Binney, formerly a technical director at the National Security Agency and one of several technical experts in the VIPS group. He also failed to pursue alternative theories in the email-theft case; a duty of any investigator in Mueller’s position. Only the willfully blind can accept these irregularities as legitimate conduct. 

Remarkably enough, Mueller’s investigation appears to have conducted no forensic tests of its own to verify allegations of a Russian hacking operation. It relied instead on the patently faulty findings of Crowdstrike, the disreputable cyber-security firm that was working for the DNC by mid–2016. Critically, the special counsel also appears to have neglected to consult the NSA for evidence pertaining to the DNC incident. Had the intrusion been a hack conducted over the internet, by Russians or anyone else, the agency would have a fully detailed digital record of the operation and the means to trace the intervention to its perpetrators. Why, it is perfectly logical to ask, was such a record not cited prominently in the Mueller report?

Mueller’s testimony before two congressional committees on July 24 was a further blow to the Russiagate thesis. The special counsel came over as a detached, out-of-touch figurehead with a very loose grip on his own investigation and poor knowledge of the report bearing his signature. Soon afterward, even Trump’s adversaries in the Democratic camp began to give up the ghost. “In the hours and days after Mr. Mueller gave his opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee,” wrote Samuel Moyn, a Yale law professor, “it became clear how tenaciously many liberals and progressives are clinging to fantasy.” Moyn’s piece appeared in The New York Times. The headline reads, “The Mueller Fantasy Comes Crashing Down.”

Despite the stunningly anticlimactic outcome of the Mueller report and his subsequent appearance on Capitol Hill — which was intended from the first to be a matter of spectacle rather than substance — new allegations of Russian interference  continue to arrive on front pages and in news broadcasts. The latest came the day after Mueller’s testimony, when the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that Russia intruded into the election systems of all 50 states during the 2016 campaigns. The report offered no supporting evidence, per usual. It was heavily redacted at the request of the relevant intelligence agencies, again per usual.

Question of Evidence

This brings us to the question of evidence. To go back to the initial allegations of Russian interference three years ago, at no point since have any of these commonly accepted charges been accompanied by hard, legally and logically sound evidence to back them up. This astonishing lacuna, while intently papered over in the media, on Capitol Hill, at the Justice Department, in the intelligence apparatus, and among law-enforcement agencies, has rendered the Russiagate orthodoxy vulnerable from the first. It now emerges that the evidence problem is worse than even the most committed critics of the Russiagate narrative had thought.

This came to light this spring, during the pre-trial discovery phase of the case against Roger Stone, the onetime Trump aide charged with obstructing justice and misleading Congress. When Stone’s attorneys requested Crowdstrike’s final report on the DNC email theft, which they said was relevant to his defense, prosecutors returned with the stunning revelation that Crowdstrike, the DNC’s cyber-security firm, never submitted a final report. “The government does not possess the information the defendant seeks,” the Justice Department responded via a court filing.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s failure to take possession of the DNC’s email servers from Crowdstrike after the mid–2016 intrusion, a shocking case of official malfeasance, has long been dismissed as an unimportant detail. We now know that the FBI, the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation relied on nothing more than three Crowdstrike drafts — all of them redacted by Crowdstrike — to build the case for Russia’s culpability in the theft of the DNC’s email.

Not only did the FBI fail to establish a proper chain of evidentiary custody after the incident at the DNC; it is now clear the bureau knows of the email theft only what Crowdstrike chose to tell it. There is no evidence that the FBI asked the NSA for its records of the incident. Nor is there any indication that Crowdstrike has ever given the FBI or prosecutors in the Stone case the data it used to produce its never-completed report. “Crowdstrike appears to have destroyed evidence or is hiding it,” Bill Binney said in a telephone interview.  

The corporate media continue to pretend in their press reports and news broadcasts that the official investigation of the DNC email incident was conducted according to the highest standard of legitimacy. Democrats on Capitol Hill, still pursuing their own investigations, never question the validity of the officially constructed case alleging Russia’s responsibility. The revelation of negligence the Stone trial brings to light, which amounts to corruption, could hardly expose this prolonged charade more starkly.

Forensic investigators, meantime, continue to gather evidence supporting the leak-not-hack case made in VIPS50. The gap thus widens between the official story of the DNC mail incident and the case supported by forensic research done by VIPS and other independent investigators working in association with it.  

Last February these investigators discovered that email pilfered in 2016 and subsequently conveyed to WikiLeaks had been stored according to a system called File Allocation Table, or FAT. The FAT system time-stamps data according to their last modifications and, because it is less precise than other storage systems, it rounds up time stamps to the next even number. If the FAT system is used to store data, it is a strong indication that the data were stored on a memory key or another such portable device.

In the 35, 816 email messages investigators examined, the FAT system assigned even-numbered time stamps to all of them. Binney, a mathematician by training, puts the chance of this occurring without the use of a portable storage device at 1 in 2 to the 35,816thpower — meaning it is a virtual impossibility.

The FAT numbering pattern detected in the email messages tested does not indicate at what stage or where a portable device was used. It shows only that such a device was used at some point in the handling of the data; a portable device may or may not have been used to execute the initial download. But the presence of the FAT system in the metadata of the emails tested adds another layer of circumstantial evidence supporting the VIPS case that the theft of DNC mail was a leak executed locally via a portable device and not a remote hack conducted through the internet. At the very least, it is an additional line of inquiry the FBI, the intelligence agencies, and the Mueller investigation have left unexamined.

VIPS Dissenters

Among the critics of VIPS50, none has influenced public opinion as much as the dissenters within the group’s membership. The presence of these dissenters has been evident since VIPS50 went through repeated drafts over a period of nearly two weeks. This is a group of honorable, in many cases brave people. But they advanced no coherent objections to the VIPS document prior to its publication, and this remained the case for some time after Consortium News posted it on July 24, 2017. Having begun reporting on VIPS50 shortly after that date, I found — and continue to find — the dissenters’ position heavily inflected with personal animosities and political leanings having no bearing on the validity of the VIPS50 findings. 

A number of dissenters signed a contribution to a forum The Nation hosted after the magazine published a piece I wrote on VIPS50 in August 2017. This was the first time the dissenters publicly presented substantive objections to VIPS50, and they focused on the core of the VIPS case. This case continues to rest primarily on the speed at which a mail theft could be executed in mid–2016. The transfer speed, identified by an analysis of metadata found on documents stolen at that time, was considerably faster than the rate possible over the internet at the time of the intrusion, indicating a leak by someone using a portable storage device and with direct access to the DNC’s servers.

The dissenting group took specific issue with these findings. “Data-transfer speeds across networks and the Internet measured in megabits per second (or megabytes per second) can easily achieve rates that greatly exceed the cited reference in the VIPS memo,” the dissidents wrote.

It was at this point the dissenters repeated the failures of the intelligence apparatus and the Mueller investigation: They produced no evidence. There is no indication the dissenters conducted tests to support their assertion on the speed question. The VIPS memo applied scientific method to the DNC mail theft for the first time and was intended as an “evidence to date” document. This marked a transformative advance in how the DNC incident can be understood: The imperative since has been to bring countervailing evidence to the investigative process, which continues. No one —not the dissenters, not the DNC, not the “intelligence community,” not Mueller, not the press — has done so.

The dissenters have been silent since their contribution to The Nation’s forum. Members have declined invitations to work with VIPS50 signatories to develop further the evidence presented in the memo. When I queried a number of dissenters for this commentary, one replied. This person did not address the findings of forensic investigators while reproducing what VIPS50 signatories term the “emotional arguments” that have characterized the dissenters’ response to the memo since the drafting phase two summers ago. These continuing difficulties appear partly to reflect a desire not to be seen defending either Trump or the Russians.

Barr’s Investigation

The NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the Mueller investigation, the press — none has shown the slightest interest in the findings outlined in VIPS50. This can come as no surprise, given the heavy investments all of these entities have made in the Russians-did-it explanation of the DNC email incident. But this omission is nonetheless negligent when one considers the contradicting evidence VIPS and those associated with it continue to amass. A key question now arises: Will the Barr investigation into the genesis of allegations of Russian interference, begun three months ago, transcend this politically inspired ignorance to expose official accounts of the mid–2016 mail theft as fallacies?

The early signs were that Barr’s investigators would at last explode the Russiagate narrative. Trump was unmistakably determined to do so when he urged Barr to “investigate the investigators” last spring. In mid–May Barr appointed John Durham, a federal prosecutor, to direct this effort. Ten days later Trump gave Barr “full and complete authority to declassify information” related to the conduct of the intelligence agencies, the FBI, and the Justice Department.

It was clear very early that Trump was aware of VIPS50 and entertained a lively interest in its findings. In September 2017, two months after Consortium published the memo, he ordered Mike Pompeo, then director of the CIA, to interview Bill Binney, the leading technical expert within the VIPS group. Pompeo did so in October 2017, but by Binney’s account he flinched: Pompeo heard Binney out at the president’s insistence, but he never pursued the forensic findings the former NSA technical director walked him through.

This was an early sign, it is now plain, that even efforts to unearth the truth of the allegations against Russia that emanate from the White House would meet political resistance. Another came last Friday, when Trump was forced to drop John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican who pledged to support a full investigation of Russiagate, as his nominee to replace Dan Coats as director of national intelligence. While Ratcliffe considered the orthodox Russiagate narrative bogus, Coats was vigorous in his promotion of it.

This makes political will another key question to ask of the Barr investigation: Full exposure of the travesty of Russiagate is almost certainly within Barr’s power to achieve. Will he do so?

Whether Trump will remain consistent in his backing of Barr is another such question. While Trump habitually terms Russiagate “a hoax,” he has also indicated on a number of occasions that his true objective is simply to escape the charge that he colluded with Russians to win the 2016 election. “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump tweeted earlier this year. “I said, ‘It may be Russia, or China, or another country or group, or it may be a 400–pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.’ The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia—it never did!”

A president who slips and slides, an administrative state — the Deep State if you like — thoroughly committed to defending falsified accounts of the mid–2016 intrusions into the DNC’s email servers, a supine press: It is impossible to say when or whether the truth of the events of three years ago will emerge. The evidence is there, sufficient now to conclude the Russigate case. The greatest remaining obstacle is the willful ignorance that incubated the Russiagate narrative and now prolongs it. We reach a point when evidence and more evidence, along with political integrity, are the only effective replies to this cynical, foolish, and costly recalcitrance.  

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutistHis website is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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Russiagate Comes to Italy

The populist League party may be joining the ranks of other entities and individuals who have been discredited for not aligning with NATO’s anti-Russian posture, writes Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus
in Milan
Special to Consortium News

A meeting with Russians, allegations of corruption, and a call for a leading politician to resign.  Russiagate has come to Italy.

A representative of the League — the right-wing anti-establishment party now part of the country’s governing coalition — is alleged to have floated a scheme for his party to receive 65 million euros ($73 million) in illegal financing, skimmed off the top of oil sales from Russia.

Gianluca Savoini, a long-time League member, was recorded during a conversation in the public lounge of Moscow’s Metropol Hotel on Oct. 18, 2018, talking to three still-unidentified Russians about how to channel money to his political party.

Prosecutors in Milan have opened an investigation, while Deputy Prime Minister and League leader Matteo Salvini has denied any knowledge of the alleged plot. 

The recording of Savoini’s conversation in Moscow was published by Buzzfeed in early July. The League and other nationalist parties in Europe, have long been subject to U.S. intelligence suspicions of getting help from Russia and Buzzfeed reporter Alberto Nardelli presents the Metropol recording as the “first hard evidence” of this. He writes that the conversation confirms suspicions that have been present for years of “Russia’s clandestine attempts to fund Europe’s nationalist movements.” (Nardelli admits that an earlier Austrian case involving a nationalist politician was “a sting,” but says the Savoini meeting “bears all the hallmarks of a real negotiation.”)

Nardelli assumes the Russian government was behind the operation — although no proof has been presented of this — and writes that “the real goal was to undermine liberal democracies and shape a new, nationalist Europe aligned with Moscow.” Nardelli presents Salvini, whom the unidentified Russians at the meeting call the “European Trump,” as under Putin’s thumb, representing a key asset for the Russian leader because of Salvini’s recent electoral victory. 

A weakness in the allegation of illicit financing, however, is that the scheme allegedly discussed would have involved sales from a Russian company (Rosneft or Lukoil) to the Italian state oil company ENI, to be processed through the Russian branch of the Italy’s largest bank, Intesa Sanpaolo and both Italian companies strongly deny any knowledge of the proposed scheme. Given their importance to the country’s economy and institutions, they represent interests that go far beyond the League’s control.

Fallout for the League

The investigation is proceeding rapidly, both in the courts and in the press, and is likely to focus on the close ties developed between League operators and Russian political and economic actors. Italian investigators are seeking anything that looks suspicious, even if plans weren’t implemented.

The allegations have caused considerable political fallout in Italy, putting Salvini – a firebrand who has become Italy’s most polarizing politician — on the defensive. The opposition Democratic Party (Pd) has called for his resignation. More importantly, the League’s coalition partner, the Five-Star Movement (M5S) — which took a drubbing in the May 26 European elections, while the League doubled its vote total and became the top party in Italy — now seems intent on exploiting Salvini’s moment of weakness to regain momentum.

The two parties have not reached a full-blown crisis. But the League appears to be getting backed into a corner and the risks of a fall are raised for Europe’s only populist government that has fully supplanted traditional ruling parties, based on its sharp criticism of EU policies on limiting social spending and public investment. 

Such a result would be welcomed by the Western liberal establishment in general, but could open the door for an even more aggressive form of populism in the future. Early indications are that even the latest scandal has not cut into the League’s support, which continues to grow in the polls.

Other Cases Brought to Mind  

The case follows that of former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who also challenged the mainstream view of Russia as an imminent threat to the West.

In 2017, before his right-wing party entered the government, Strache was filmed, while drinking heavily, promising public contracts to a woman claiming to be the niece of a Russian oligarch in exchange for funding for his party. As Spiegel online, one of the German press outlets that published the video, reported: “The meeting was a trap.” The woman was not who she said she was, and the video ended up being used to bring about the fall of the Austrian government. Strache claims he was set up by a foreign intelligence service.

The film was published in May with the desired effect: Strache was forced to resign, putting pressure on rightwing political parties that have been critical of the EU’s decision to maintain sanctions on Russia, such as the League, the National Rally in France and Alternative for Germany.

Of course the prime example of discrediting by association with Moscow is Russiagate.

As former CIA analyst Larry C. Johnson has documented in detail, the numerous contacts between people around President Donald Trump and intermediaries offering damaging information on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or contacts for political or business operations in Russia, were initiated and promoted not by Trump’s side, but by individuals who in many cases have worked for the FBI, the CIA, or the British intelligence service MI-6.

Grounds for Skepticism

Read in light of that precedent, Buzzfeed’s coverage of Savoini’s conversation in Moscow gives grounds for skepticism.

Buzzfeed has been listed as a media target for reports and studies by  the “Integrity Initiative,” a British government-funded network of spies, journalists and think-tanks in the United Kingdom that has targeted politicians and other public figures who are alleged to be too pro-Russian.

At the end of 2018, British Member of Parliament Chris Williamson responded to revelations about the Integrity Initiative’s media-influence activities by demanding answers about government funding for the group’s targeting of Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, another politician who often goes against the neoconservative and neoliberal mainstream, this time on the left.

Buzzfeed also has a blemished history with other Russian-meddling allegations. In January, Buzzfeed reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier authored the bombshell article, “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project.” Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s spokesman promptly called the report “not accurate,” but not before it had been picked up by many large media outlets.

Scandal Hits at Delicate Time

The Italian Russiagate comes at a delicate time. The League has long stated its intention to fight for the removal of sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, and in the past has even called for recognizing the 2014 referendum by which Crimea joined Russia, a move considered unacceptable by NATO countries.

From my own contacts in Italy, I know that these positions have, in recent years, worried U.S. diplomats who saw that Salvini’s party was on the rise and were wary of his pro-Russia stance. In response, they did their best to cultivate a relationship with League leaders, with the aim of cooling the party’s attitude towards Moscow in the event it made its way into government, as happened.

The strategy seems to have worked, for the most part: now that the League is one of the two parties governing the country, it has stopped talking about Crimea, and has not blocked continued EU sanctions on Russia. In June, the European Council, which includes the Italian prime minister, extended the sanctions for another year.

The League has also taken public steps to reassure the United States of its loyalty to the Atlantic Alliance, after concerns were raised about Italy’s position when it became the first G-7 country to formally join the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative in March. After that, Salvini and Chief of Staff Giancarlo Giorgetti moved quickly to dampen fears in Washington about Italy distancing itself from Washington.

On the other hand, a state visit to Italy by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the beginning of July showed that Italian institutions are still eager to maintain good relations with Russia.

The Italians hope to leverage Trump’s desire for a shift towards Russia, while still swearing their allegiance to whatever other line comes out of Washington.

After Salvini’s June 17 meeting with Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence in Washington, the Italian press reported that the Americans want to see more in terms of alignment not only on Russia, but also on Venezuela, Iran, and China.

Paolo Mastrolilli of the daily La Stampa wrote (in Italian) that Pompeo played the hard cop in the meetings, and intends to wait to see if Salvini will keep his promises to stay in line with the State Department before further advancing relations. Mastrolilli also reported that Pompeo is worried by reports that the League may have received help from the Kremlin.

Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and political analyst based in Milan, and the elected chairman of the Milan Foreign Press Association. His latest book is “Original Sins. Globalization, Populism, and the Six Contradictions Facing the European Union,” published in May 2019.

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WATCH: CN Live! Kim Dotcom, Bill Binney, Mike Gravel Episode 4

Mike Gravel discusses this week’s Democratic debates he was shut out of; plus CN Live!‘s interview with Kim Dotcom on the DNC and Podesta leaks, and who leaked them, is dissected by Bill Binney, former  NSA technical director.

The fourth episode of CN Live!, featured former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel, discussing this week’s Democratic Party debates that he was prevented from joining despite meeting the DNC requirements; and internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom on the DNC and Podesta emails and how they got to WikiLeaks. Kim’s interview, taped earlier in New Zealand, was aired here for the first time, and was analyzed by Bill Binney, the former National Security Agency technical director. All on CN Live! with hosts Elizabeth Vos and Joe Lauria, with post-game analysis by George Szamuely. Executive Producer: Cathy Vogan. Technician: Ebon Kim. Watch it here:

 

 




RAY McGOVERN: DNI Nominee Intent on Getting to Bottom of Russiagate

Attorney General Bill Bar will have a new deputy sheriff to go after those responsible for Russiagate, if John Ratcliffe is confirmed as new DNI, as Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Shortly before President Donald Trump announced he had nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) to replace Dan Coats as director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe made it clear he intends to hit the deck running on the “crimes” behind Russiagate.

“What I do know as a former federal prosecutor is it does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama administration,” Ratcliffe told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo. Mincing few words, he claimed the Democrats “accused Donald Trump of a crime and then tried to reverse engineer a process to justify that accusation.”

It’s an extravagant claim. But it is also true, and the proof is in the pudding of which we should have a steady diet in the months to come.

Ratcliffe sounds partisan speaking of “crimes committed” under Obama. But there could well be documentary evidence to back it up. Some is classified. Trump has given Attorney General William Barr instructions to declassify what is necessary. Barr should be able to count on Ratcliffe, if he is confirmed by the Senate as DNI, to ride herd on those in the intelligence community with huge incentives to cover their tracks and those of their former bosses.

This may come as something of a shock to new readers of Consortium News because of the incessant drivel from corporate media “talking heads” for a full three years now. They are not likely to give up any time soon.

Ratcliffe on Where We Are Now

Ratcliffe told Bartiromo:

“The only place we can get the answers is from the Justice Department right now. The American people’s faith and trust has been shaken in our Justice Department, and the only way to get that back is for there to be real accountability with a very fair process. Again, I have supreme confidence in Bill Barr’s ability to deliver that and at the end of the day … as long as we know that the process was fair … justice will be done.”

If Ratcliffe means what he says, his remarks indicate that Barr (a former CIA official and relatively new-sheriff-back-in-town in his second stint as AG) should have in Ratcliffe a no-holds-Barred deputy sheriff, if he takes advantage of him. “Bill Barr has earned my trust already … that there will be a fair process, with John Durham and Michael Horowitz, to getting answers … and to provide accountability where it really belongs,” Ratcliffe said.

Barr has ordered John Durham, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, to investigate how Russiagate got started. And Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice Inspector General, is said to be almost ready to report on the roles of the DOJ and FBI in promoting the Trump-Putin “collusion” narrative.

Durham, however, twice essentially covered up for CIA misdeeds. The New York Times reported: “In 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey assigned Mr. Durham to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes in 2005 showing the torture of terrorism suspects. A year later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to also examine whether the agency broke any laws in its abuses of detainees in its custody.”

Abundantly clear in those days, however, was the reality that neither Mukasey nor Holder wanted Durham to deliver the goods on CIA people demonstrably involved in well documented death-by-torture of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. Good soldier Durham uttered not a peep when Holder announced that the Department of Justice “declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But Holder added this: “Our inquiry was limited to a determination of whether prosecutable offenses were committed and was not intended to, and does not resolve, broader questions regarding the propriety of the examined conduct.” The Times noted at the time that DOJ’s decision did not amount to “exoneration” of those involved in the prisoners’ treatment and deaths. Does that sound familiar?

Thus, judging from past experience, the question is not so much what Durham will come up with this time around when investigating folks from the same line of (intelligence) work. The more salient question is this: Will Durham’s role be limited by Deep State, gun-shy Trump, or will he be given the latitude to proceed with no-holds-Barred, so to speak.

Horowitz’s investigators, on the other hand, earlier discovered the extremely-damaging-to-the-Russia-gate-yarn text exchanges between senior FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and Horowitz decided to make them public in December 2017. First off the blocks the following day, the late Robert Parry, founder of this website, posted what turned out to be his last substantive article, “The Foundering Russia-gate Scandal.”

Horowitz’s investigators recently interviewed some formerly reluctant witnesses like Christopher Steele, who had been a paid informant of the FBI itself and whom the Clinton campaign later paid to assemble the infamous “dossier” on Trump’s alleged cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow and other scurrilous, since-disproven stories.

With the malleable nonentity Coats as DNI, and with top CIA officials trying to keep former CIA Director John Brennan out of jail (and shield their own derrieres), Barr has — until now — lacked a strong “deputy sheriff” with the requisite prosecutorial skills and courage to investigate the intelligence community to find out where the bodies are buried in Washington. As soon as Ratcliffe is confirmed, Barr should have what he needs to close that gap and tackle full bore the intelligence part of the Deep State’s role in Russiagate.

A Parvenu?

But how could Ratcliffe know anything, the corporate media asks, as they paint him as a newcomer, partisan ignoramus and focus on his lack of experience in foreign affairs. Sorry, Rachel Maddow, in case you haven’t noticed, the present focus is on affairs much closer to home. The “parvenu” label will not stick. Serving, as Ratcliffe has, on three key House committees —Intelligence, Judiciary, and Homeland Security — you can learn a whole lot, if you regard your responsibility as oversight, not overlook.

Is there documentary evidence? Admittedly, it would seem a stretch to believe that Obama’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials — in “collusion” with the corporate media — would fabricate a Trump-in-Putin’s-pocket story line first to try to prevent Trump from being elected, and then emasculate him as incoming president. But, yes, there should be all manner of documentary evidence indicating that this is precisely what happened.

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) claimed in early April 2019, “They [the Democrats] have lied multiple times to the American people. All you have to do is look at their phony memos. They have had the full support of the media, 90 percent of the media in this country. They all have egg on their face.” The way things are now shaping up, we are likely to learn before too long whether the evidence supports Nunes’s accusations.

All the Naiveté That’s Fit to Print

The New York Times reported that many Republican Senators, who must vote on his confirmation, are “cool” to Ratcliffe:

“Democrats said on Monday that they were worried that Mr. Ratcliffe would do little to push back against the Justice Department’s review of the origins of the Russia inquiry, for which Mr. Trump gave Attorney General William P. Barr broad power to declassify relevant documents.”

Democrats don’t watch Fox News, but does the Gray Lady still harbor hope Ratcliffe might “push back” when he says he will push full steam ahead?

None of the leaking, unmasking, surveillance, DNC-hired “opposition research,” or other activities directed against the Trump campaign can be properly understood if one does not bear in mind that it was considered a sure thing that Hillary Clinton would become President, at which point high-risk, illegal activities undertaken to help her win would likely bring gratitude and perhaps a promotion, not an indictment. But Clinton lost.

After her loss, Comey himself gave the game away in his book, “A Higher Loyalty” — which amounted to a pre-emptive move motivated by loyalty-to-self and eagerness to secure a Stay-Out-of-Jail card. Comey wrote, “I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president …” [Emphasis added.] This would, of course, confer automatic immunity on key players who may now find themselves criminally referred to the Department of Justice.

Worse still, because they all were convinced a Clinton victory was a sure thing, the plotters did not perform due diligence to hide their tracks. And that largely accounts for the fact that there should be documentary evidence — probably even on not-yet-shredded paper, as well as on computer hard drives.

Given his seats on Intelligence, Judiciary, and Homeland Security, Ratcliffe has seen a lot more of them than most Congress members. In the Sunday interview, he named some of those allegedly engaged in illegalities:  former FBI Director James Comey, senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr, and opposition research guru Glenn Simpson. Also mentioned but unnamed were the Obama officials who Ratcliffe said committed a “felony” by leaking highly classified phone transcripts to use against Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security adviser.

But Now Running Scared

No one has more to fear from all this than ex-CIA Director Brennan. He eagerly awaited the final report from Mueller, whom Brennan has unctuously praised. Introducing Mueller to an audience at Georgetown University in June 2014, Brennan called him “a remarkable public servant as well as a great friend, a transformative leader, an outstanding partner to CIA, and a source of wise counsel to leaders across the intelligence community.”

In his testimony to the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on July 24, Mueller avoided discussing some of the chicanery that bears Brennan’s fingerprints, but he surely failed to “exonerate” him, so to speak. To suggest that the selection of Ratcliffe to become DNI was unwelcome news to Brennan is to state the obvious. Brennan got up early on Monday and at 7:11 AM sent this characteristic tweet — about integrity and subservience, of all things:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has tweeted information from “a high-level source” that it was Brennan who “insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier” be given prominent attention in the Russia-gate story.

Paul has also said he thinks Brennan has been “a partisan” and “abused his office in developing the Trump investigation. I think it was done under false pretenses and done for political reasons.”

Paul has been a strong advocate of investigating the origins of Mueller’s probe, including the dicey question of how witting President Obama was of the Deep State machinations during the last months of his administration. Page did tell Strzok in a Sept. 2, 2016 text that the president “wants to know everything we’re doing.”

So What DID Obama Know?

If anyone knows how much Obama knew, it is one of his closest confidants: Brennan. And it was Obama, of course, who commissioned the misnomered “Intelligence Community Assessment” of Jan. 6, 2017, which Russia-gate aficionados have long regarded as Bible truth. As readers of Consortium News know, candidate Hillary Clinton and her supporters were wrong in saying the ICA was the product of “all 17” U.S. intelligence agencies. The leaders of only three — CIA, FBI, and NSA — signed on to it, plus DNI James Clapper.

Months later, Clapper admitted it was “handpicked analysts” from those three who wrote the report. It is a safe bet that Brennan, Clapper, and perhaps Comey picked the analysts. The ICA is such a shabby piece of work that many — including me — suspect that Brennan took a direct hand in writing it.

Ratcliffe would be well advised to take a priority look into the “Excellent Adventure” of that Intelligence Community Assessment as soon as he is confirmed as Director of National Intelligence, and before Brennan, Clapper, and Comey leave town for parts unknown.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. As a CIA analyst, he served under nine CIA directors and seven presidents, for three of whom he prepared and gave the morning briefing based on The President’s Daily Brief. In retirement, he co-created Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




The War Party Is in Control

Republicans and Democrats alike are blaming U.S. crises on foreign adversaries instead of themselves, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

A few things are clear after Robert Mueller’s testimony last week.  One is that the former special counsel is an out-of-touch figurehead who doesn’t even seem to have read his own report.  Another is that Russiagate is a stinking sack of excrement – as California Republican Tom McClintock more or less described it (quote starts at 3:40:45) – that Democrats would never again mention if they had half a brain (which they don’t).

A third is that America is now dominated by a war party that includes everyone on Capitol Hill other than a few isolationists on the right and the Bernie Sanders-Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faction on the left.  To be sure, there’s disagreement as to whether the enemy is Russia or Iran.  But such minor details aside, the logic is otherwise the same.  Foreigners are out to get us.  They are responsible for all our troubles.  Americans must mobilize to stop them.

Elementary concepts like evidence meanwhile fall by the wayside.  During a visit to India last month, Mike Pompeo described Iran as “the world’s largest state sponsor of terror” (quote at 27:15). 

No one asked the secretary of state to back up his fantastic assertion, which overlooks the obvious fact that Al Qaeda and ISIS are both Sunni extremist organizations that despise Shi’ite Iran as much as they despise the United States, if not more.  In June 2017, for instance, the Islamic State launched a devastating attack in Tehran that killed 17 civilians and wounded 43.  In September 2018, it attacked a military parade in the southwestern Iranian town of Ahvaz, killing 25.  Three months later, suicide car bombers belonging to Ansar al-Furqan, a militant Sunni group linked to Al Qaeda, killed two policemen and wounded 48 in the southeastern town of Chabahar.

Why would Iran finance terror when it’s the victim?  It doesn’t make sense.  But, then, reality, as Karl Rove once put it, is something that empires feel free to make up to suit their own purposes.

Evidence-Free Terrain

Mueller’s assertion last Wednesday that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections similarly exists in an evidence-free terrain.  “It wasn’t a single attempt,” he declared in reference to misleading Facebook ads placed by a St. Petersburg, Russia, troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

The New York Times and Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post agreed with Mueller and issued howls of concurring outrage. But how did Mueller know that Russia was hacking away “as we sit here”?  What evidence does he have that they will do it in 2020? The answer is zero.  To paraphrase The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” the attitude seems to be: “Proof?  We ain’t got no proof.  We don’t need no proof.  I don’t have to show you any stinking proof.”

Indeed, proof of Mueller’s entire thesis is somewhere between scanty and nonexistent.  To be sure, the Internet Research Agency did purchase misleading ads in Facebook. But the amount it spent, roughly $44,000 prior to Election Day, was less than a thousandth of the collective Clinton-Trump social-media budget of $81 million.  Moreover, the ads themselves were so amateurish and inept – a drawing of a muscle-bound Bernie Sanders in a Speedo, a picture of Jesus arm wrestling a pro-Clinton Satan, etc. – that it’s hard to believe that they persuaded anyone at all. 

“Sweeping and systemic,” to quote the Mueller report, this was not.  In October 2017, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch told the Senate intelligence committee that some 470 phony IRA accounts “collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017,” which may have “reached as many as 126 million persons.”  Ominous as this may sound, two things are worth keeping in mind: (No. 1) fully half of this 32-month period either predates Trump’s candidacy or postdates his election; and (No. 2) American Facebook users received a total of 33 trillion posts over the same time span, a figure more than 400 million times greater. 

Drop in the Bucket

The IRA campaign was thus a drop in the bucket. What’s more, there’s no evidence that Russia had anything to do with it.  In February 2018, when Mueller indicted the IRA, its owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, and 12 employees for fraud and illegal interference, he made no mention of a Kremlin link.  He was less circumspect in his report 14 months later, which describes the IRA effort as a “Russian interference operation.”  But the only proof it offers – at least in the expurgated version made public in April – is a 2018 New York Times article stating that Prigozhin is known as “Putin’s cook” because the Russian president dined at a restaurant he owns a few times in 2001 to 2003. 

So glaring is the discrepancy that a federal judge presiding over the trial of an IRA sister company threatened to hold Mueller in contempt if he made any more statements about a supposed Kremlin connection. 

As for hacking the Democratic National Committee, the other half of Mueller’s tale of Boris-and-Natasha-style derring-do, the cupboard is also bare.  Mueller’s July 2018 indictment of the Russian military agency known as the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye, or Main Intelligence Directorate) suggests that some sort of break-in may indeed have taken place. 

But even if it did, the news is hardly shocking in the wake of Edward Snowden’s June 2013 revelations about the National Security Agency harvesting millions of email and instant messaging contact listssearching email contentinvading computer privacy, and tracking and mapping cell-phone locations around the globe.  These are activities that put the GRU to shame.  Indeed, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel learned that she was one of 35 world leaders whose phone calls the NSA was routinely intercepting, she compared the agency to the Stasi.

The more important charge that the GRU not only hacked the DNC but passed along its findings to WikiLeaks doesn’t add up.  The problem is one of timing, as Consortium News pointed out the day the Mueller report was released.  On June 12, 2016, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced that “leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton” were forthcoming.  Yet the Mueller report (volume one, page 45) says that WikiLeaks did not establish contact with the mysterious online persona known as Guccifer 2.0 until June 22.  If Guccifer is a GRU “cutout” created with the express purpose of passing data to WikiLeaks, why would Assange put out word 10 days before hearing from the supposed source? 

The Mueller report adds that Guccifer did not send WikiLeaks its files until July 14. But how would this give WikiLeaks enough time to vet some 28,000 emails and other electronic documents before releasing them to great fanfare on July 22?  This was the massive email dump that revealed that the DNC had tipped the scales against Bernie Sanders and caused DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign.  But since WikiLeaks didn’t know Guccifer from Adam, how could it be sure that the material he supposedly forwarded was genuine and tamper-free?

Assange More Credible

The answer is it couldn’t, which is why Assange’s statement that “our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party” is more believable than anything Mueller has had to say on the subject.  Mueller is the ex-FBI chief who told the Senate intelligence committee on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction pose “a clear threat to our national security.”  Why trust him over a man whose record for veracity is still a hundred percent?

And why now?  Why are Republicans and Democrats both casting logic and evidence along the wayside in order to blame everything on countries like Russia and Iran?

The answer: growing social dysfunction into which the  current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine offers insight. The cover shows a bedraggled bald eagle alongside the question, “What Happened to the American Century?”  Inside, Editor Gideon Rose asks how things could “fall apart so quickly,” Fareed Zakaria bemoans the death of American hegemony, while Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson observe that “[r]ising death rates among middle-aged white Americans are … a symptom of the virtual collapse of the federal government’s ability to address major public problems.”  Julia Azari of Marquette University adds that a “broken” political system has resulted in “a democracy that is simultaneously inclusive and ineffective.”

It’s an impressive list of woes, yet there’s so much more: an energy crisis due to over-reliance on fossil fuels; a climate crisis due to global warming; an economic crisis due to slowing growth rates and skyrocketing wealth polarization; a constitutional crisis due to an unrepresentative Electoral College and a grossly malapportioned U.S. Senate, and a foreign-policy crisis due to what historian Paul Kennedy once described as “imperial overstretch,” a concept that neocons such as Norman Podhoretz, George F. Will, and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick once dismissed, but which has returned with a vengeance since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and other disasters.  

It’s positively Job-like.  When a country has as many problems as these, the temptation to attribute it all to “foreign adversaries … intent on undermining American democracy” is overwhelming.  Why take responsibility for one’s own actions when it’s so much easier to blame someone else?

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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Before commenting please read Robert Parry’s Comment Policy. Allegations unsupported by facts, gross or misleading factual errors and ad hominem attacks, and abusive language toward other commenters or our writers will be removed.

 




Russiagate as Organized Distraction

Oliver Boyd-Barrett looks at who benefits from having the corporate media suffocate their public with a puerile narrative for over two years. 

By Oliver Boyd-Barrett
Organisation for Propaganda Studies

For over two years Russiagate has accounted for a substantial proportion of all mainstream U.S. media political journalism and, because U.S. media have significant agenda-setting propulsion, of global media coverage as well. The timing has been catastrophic. The Trump administration has shredded environmental protections, jettisoned nuclear agreements, exacerbated tensions with U.S. rivals and pandered to the rich.

In place of sustained media attention to the end of the human species from global warming, its even more imminent demise in nuclear warfare, or the further evisceration of democratic discourse in a society riven by historically unprecedented wealth inequalities and unbridled capitalistic greed, corporate media suffocate their publics with a puerile narrative of alleged collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

The Russiagate discourse is profoundly mendacious and hypocritical. It presumes that the U.S. electoral system enjoys a high degree of public trust and security. Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S. democratic system is deeply entrenched in a dystopian two-party system dominated  by the rich and largely answerable to corporate oligopolies; it is ideologically beholden to the values of extreme capitalism and imperialist domination. Problems with the U.S. electoral system and media are extensive and well documented.

U.S. electoral procedures are profoundly compromised by an Electoral College that detaches votes counted from votes that count. The composition of electoral districts has been gerrymandered to minimize the possibility of electoral surprises. Voting is dependent on easily hackable corporate-manufactured electronic voting systems. Right-wing administrations reach into a tool-box of voter-suppression tactics that run the gamut from minimizing available voting centers and voting machines through to excessive voter identification requirements and the elimination of swathes of the voting lists (e.g. groups such as people who have committed felonies or people whose names are similar to those of felons, or people who have not voted in previous elections). Even the results of campaigns are corrupted when outgoing regimes abuse their remaining weeks in power to push through regulations or legislation that will scuttle the efforts of their successors. Democratic theory presupposes the formal equivalence of voice in the battlefield of ideas. Nothing could be further from the reality of the U.S. “democratic” system in which a small number of powerful interests enjoy ear-splitting megaphonic advantage on the basis of often anonymous “dark” money donations filtered through SuperPacs and their ilk, operating outside the confines of (the somewhat more transparently monitored) electoral campaigns.

Free and Open Exchange of Ideas

Regarding media, democratic theory presupposes a public communications infrastructure that facilitates the free and open exchange of ideas. No such infrastructure exists.  Mainstream media are owned and controlled by a small number of large, multi-media and multi-industrial conglomerates that lie at the very heart of U.S. oligopoly capitalism and much of whose advertising revenue and content is furnished from other conglomerates.

The inability of mainstream media to sustain an information environment that can encompass histories, perspectives and vocabularies that are free of the shackles of U.S. plutocratic self-regard is also well documented. Recent U.S. media coverage of the U.S.-gestated crisis in Venezuela is a case in point.

The much-celebrated revolutionary potential of social media is illusory. The principal suppliers of social media architecture are even more corporatized than their legacy predecessors. They depend not just on corporate advertising but on the sale of big data that they pilfer from users and sell to corporate and political propagandists often for non-transparent AI-assisted micro-targeting during “persuasion” campaigns. Like their legacy counterparts, social media are imbricated within, collaborate with, and are vulnerable to the machinations of the military-industry-surveillance establishment. So-called election meddling across the world has been an outstanding feature of the exploitation of social and legacy media by companies linked to political, defense and intelligence such as – but by no means limited to – the former Cambridge Analytica and its British parent SCL.

Against this backdrop of electoral and media failures, it makes little sense to elevate discussion of and attention to the alleged social media activities of, say, Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

Russian Contacts Deplored

Attention is being directed away from substantial, and substantiated, problems and onto trivial, and unsubstantiated, problems. Moreover, in a climate of manufactured McCarthyite hysteria, Russiagate further presupposes that any communication between a presidential campaign and Russia is in itself deplorable. Even if one were to confine this conversation only to communication between ruling oligarchs of both the U.S. and Russia, however, the opposite would surely be the case. This is not simply because of the benefits that accrue from a broader understanding of the world, identification of shared interests and opportunities, and their promise for peaceful relations. A real politick analysis might advise the insertion of wedges between China and Russia so as to head off the perceived threat to the USA of a hybrid big-power control over a region of the world that has long been considered indispensable for truly global hegemony.

Even if we address Russiagate as a problem worthy of our attention, the evidentiary basis for the major claims is weak. 

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments and investigations implicated several individuals for activities that in some cases have no connection whatsoever to the 2016 presidential campaign.  In some other instances they appear to have been more about lies and obstructions to his investigation rather than material illegal acts, or amount to charges that are unlikely ever to be contested in a court of law.

The investigation itself is traceable back to two significant but extremely problematic reports made public in January 2017. One was the “Steele dossier” by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele. This is principally of interest for its largely unsupported allegations that in some sense or another Trump was in cahoots with Russia. Steele’s company, Orbis, was commissioned to write the report by Fusion GPS which in turn was contracted by attorneys working for the Democratic National Campaign. Passage of earlier drafts of the Steele report through sources close to British intelligence, and accounts by Trump adviser George Papadopoulos concerning conversations he had concerning possible Russian possession of Clinton emails with a character who may as likely have been a British as a Russian spy, were instrumental in stimulating FBI interest in and spying on the Trump campaign.

There are indirect links between Steele, another former MI6 agent, Pablo Miller (who also worked for Orbis) and Sergei Skripal, a Russian agent who had been recruited as informer to MI6 by Miller and who was the target of an attempted assassination in 2018. This event has occasioned controversial, not to say highly implausible and mischievous British government claims and accusations against Russia.

The  most significant matter raised by a second report, issued by the Intelligence Community Assessment and representing the conclusions of a small team picked from the Director of Intelligence office, CIA, FBI and NSA, was its claim that Russian intelligence was responsible for the hacking of the computer systems of the DNC and its chairman John Podesta in summer 2016 and that the hacked documents had been passed to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. No evidence for this was supplied.

Although the hacking allegations have become largely uncontested articles of faith in the RussiaGate discourse they are significantly reliant on the problematic findings of a small private company hired by the DNC. There is also robust evidence that the documents may have been leaked rather than hacked and by U.S.-based sources. The fact that the documents revealed that the DNC, a supposedly neutral agent in the primary campaign, had in fact been biased in favor of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and that Clinton’s private statements to industry were not in keeping with her public positions, has long been obscured in media memory in favor a preferred narrative of Russian villainy.

Who Benefits?

Why then does the Russiagate discourse have so much traction? Who benefits?

Russiagate serves the interest of a (No. 1) corrupted Democratic Party, whose biased and arguably incompetent campaign management lost it the 2016 election, in alliance (No. 2) with powerful factions of the U.S. industrial-military-surveillance establishment that for the past 19 years, through NATO and other malleable international agencies, has sought to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, dismember Russia and the Russian Federation (undoubtedly for the benefit of Western capital) and, more latterly, further contain China in a perpetual and titanic struggle for the heart of EurAsia.

In so far as Trump had indicated (for whatever reasons) in the course of his campaign that he disagreed with at least some aspects of this long-term strategy, he came to be viewed as unreliable by the U.S. security state.

While serving the immediate purpose of containing Trump, U.S. accusations of Russian meddling in U.S. elections were farcical in the context of a well-chronicled history of U.S. “meddling” in the elections and politics of nations for over 100 years. This meddling across all hemispheres has included the staging of coups, invasions and occupations on false pretext in addition to numerous instances of “color revolution” strategies involving the financing of opposition parties and provoking uprisings, frequently coupled with economic warfare (sanctions).

A further beneficiary (No.3) is the sum of all those interests that favor a narrowing of public expression to a framework supportive of neoliberal imperialism. Paradoxically exploiting the moral panic associated with both Trump’s plaintive wailing about “fake news” whenever mainstream media coverage is critical of him, and social media embarrassment over exposure of their big-data sales to powerful corporate customers, these interests have called for more regulation of, as well as self-censorship by, social media.

Social media responses increasingly involve more restrictive algorithms and what are often partisan “fact-checkers” (illustrated by Facebook financial support for and dependence on the pro-NATO “think tank,” the Atlantic Council). The net impact has been devastating for many information organizations in the arena of social media whose only “sin” is analysis and opinion that runs counter to elite neoliberal propaganda.

The standard justification of such attacks on free expression is to insinuate ties to Russia and/or to terrorism. Given these heavy handed and censorious responses by powerful actors, it would appear perhaps that the RussiaGate narrative is increasingly implausible to many and the only hope now for its proponents is to stifle questioning. These are dark days indeed for democracy.

Oliver Boyd-Barrett is professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University. He is author of “RussiaGate and Propaganda: Disinformation in the Age of Social Media” London and New York (Routledge).

An earlier version of this article was published by the Organisation for Propaganda Studies.

Before commenting please read Robert Parry’s Comment Policy. Allegations unsupported by facts, gross or misleading factual errors and ad hominem attacks, and abusive language toward other commenters or our writers will be removed.




WATCH THE REPLAY: CN Live! With Nancy Hollander, Margaret Kimberley, Ed Botowsky and Ray McGovern

Chelsea Manning’s lawyer gave an update on the imprisoned whistleblower; Margaret Kimberly spoke on the dangerous mix of nationalism and racism and the Seth Rich controversy was dissected on the 3rd episode of CN Live!

On Episode 3 of CN Live! we spoke with Chelsea Manning’s lead attorney, Nancy Hollander; Margaret Kimberley, editor and columnist at the Black Agenda Report, on the dangerous mix of racism and nationalism;  Ed Butowsky on the ongoing Seth Rich controversy and retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern analyzed the Rich story and Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress.

Watch the replay here:

Before commenting please read Robert Parry’s Comment Policy. Allegations unsupported by facts, gross or misleading factual errors and ad hominem attacks, and abusive language toward other commenters or our writers will be removed.




Democrats Blowing on Embers With a Politicized Mueller

Robert Mueller appeared to have difficulty understanding and answering questions during his day-long hearings on Wednesday but snapped to attention to make political points, says Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Former Russiagate special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on Wednesday was an exercise by the Democrats of trying to extract statements that would keep Russiagate alive and an attempt by the Republicans to finish off the story once and for all.

Appearing to be feigning, or actually suffering early signs of senility, the nearly 75-year old Mueller disappointed both parties and the public. He declined to answer 198 questions, according to a count by NBC News. When he did answer he was often barely intelligible and mostly stuck to what was in his final report, though he often had to fumble through pages to find passages he could not recall, eating into committee members’ five-minute time limit.

Mueller especially refused to comment on the process of his investigation, such as who he did or did not interview, what countries his investigators visited and he even dodged discussing some relevant points of law. It was an abdication of his responsibility to U.S. taxpayers who footed his roughly $30-million, 22-month probe.

But when it came to making political statements, the former FBI director suddenly rediscovered his mental acuity. He went way beyond his report to say, without prosecutorial evidence, that he agreed with the assessment of then CIA Director Mike Pompeo that WikiLeaks is a “non-state, hostile intelligence agency.”

Mueller called “illegal” WikiLeak‘s obtaining the Podesta and DNC emails, an act of journalism. In the 2016 election, the Espionage Act would not apply as the DNC and Podesta emails were not classified. Nor has WikiLeaks been accused by anyone of stealing the emails. And yet the foremost law enforcement figure in the U.S. accused WikiLeaks of breaking the law merely for publishing.

Though Mueller’s report makes no mention of The Guardian’s tale that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort visited WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy, when questioned on this, Mueller refused to refute the story, for which there isn’t a scrap of evidence. That was another purely political and not legal intervention from the lawman.

Russia, Russia, Russia

While Mueller concluded there was no evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign to throw the 2016 election, he has not let up on the most politicized part of his message: that Russia interfered “massively” in “our democracy” and is still doing it. There was no waffling from Mueller when it came to this question.

He bases this on his indictment of 12 GRU Russian military intelligence agents whom he alleges hacked the DNC emails and transmitted them to WikiLeaks. Mueller knows those agents will never be arrested and brought to a courtroom to have his charges tested. In that sense the indictment was less a legal than a political document.

Among the inaccuracies about Russiagate that were recycled at the hearing is that the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency spent $1.25 million in the United States to influence the election. That figure belonged to a unit that acted worldwide, not just in the U.S., according to Mueller’s indictment. In fact it only spent $100,000 on Facebook ads, half coming after the election, and as even Mueller pointed out, some were anti-Trump.

Cambridge Analytica, by contrast, had 5,000 data points on 240 million Americans, some of it bought from Facebook, that gave an enormous advantage for targeted ads to the Trump campaign, which says it put out 5.9 million Facebook ads based on this data. It paid at least $5.9 million to the company co-founded by Trump’s campaign strategist Steve Bannon. But we are supposed to believe that a comparatively paltry number of social media messages from the IRA threw the election.

Mueller implied in his testimony that there was a link between the IRA and the Russian government despite an order from a judge for him to stop making that connection. In focusing again on Russia, no member of Congress from either party raised the content of the leaked emails.

For the Democrats especially, it is all about the source, who is irrelevant, since no one disputes the accuracy of the emails that exposed Hillary Clinton. (That the source of authentic documents is irrelevant is demonstrated by The Wall Street Journal and other major media using anonymous drop boxes pioneered by WikiLeaks.) Were a foreign power to spread disinformation about candidates in a U.S. election (something the candidates do to each other all the time) that would be sabotage. But the leaking and publication of the Clinton emails was information valuable to American voters. And WikiLeaks would have published Trump emails, but it never received any,  Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson told Consortium New‘s webcast CN Live!

No Power to Exonerate

With “collusion” off the table, the Democrats have been obsessed with Trump allegedly obstructing an investigation that found no underlying crime. That’s something like being arrested for resisting arrest when you’ve committed no other infraction.

In his morning testimony, Mueller amplified the misperception that the only reason he didn’t charge Trump with obstruction is because of a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted.

But then Mueller came back from a break in the  hearing to issue a “correction.” It was not true that he had concluded there’d been obstruction but was blocked by the OLC policy, he said. In fact he never concluded that there had been obstruction at all. “We didn’t make a decision about culpability,” Mueller said. “We didn’t go down that road.”

Instead of leaving it at that, Mueller said in his report and testimony that Trump was not “exonerated” of an obstruction charge. That led to blaring headlines Wednesday morning while the hearing was still going on. “Trump was not exonerated by my report, Robert Mueller tells Congress,” said the BBC. “Mueller Report Did Not Exonerate Trump, Mueller Says,” blared the HuffPost.

But in what may have been the most embarrassing moment for Mueller, Republican Congressman Michael Turner (R-OH) pointed out that a prosecutor does not have the power to exonerate anyone. A prosecutor  prosecutes.

“Mr. Mueller, does the Attorney General have the power or authority to exonerate?” Turner asked the witness. “What I’m putting up here is the United States code. This is where the Attorney General gets his power. And the constitution … .

“Mr. Mueller, nowhere in these [documents] … is there a process or description on ‘exonerate.’ There’s no office of exoneration at the Attorney General’s office. … Mr. Mueller, would you agree with me that the Attorney General does not have the power to exonerate?”

“I’m going to pass on that,” Mueller replied.

“Why?” Turner asked.

“Because it embroils us in a legal discussion, and I’m not prepared to do a legal discussion in that arena,” Mueller said.

Pointing to a CNN headline that had just appeared, “MUELLER: TRUMP WAS NOT EXONERATED,” Turner said: “What you know is, that this can’t say, ‘Mueller exonerated Trump,’ because you don’t have the power or authority to exonerate Trump. You have no more power to declare him exonerated than you have the power to declare him Anderson Cooper.”

Turner said: “The statement about exoneration is misleading, and it’s meaningless. It colors this investigation— one word of out the entire portion of your report. And it’s a meaningless word that has no legal meaning, and it has colored your entire report.”

Who is a Spy for Whom?

Mueller also took a pass every time the Steele dossier was raised, which it first was by Rep. David Nunes (R-CA):

“Despite acknowledging dossier allegations as being salacious and unverified, former FBI Director James Comey briefed those allegations to President Obama and President-elect Trump. Those briefings conveniently leaked to the press, resulting in the publication of the dossier and launching thousands of false press stories based on the word of a foreign ex-spy, one who admitted he was desperate that Trump lose the election and who was eventually fired as an FBI source for leaking to the press.

 “And the entire investigation was open based not on Five Eyes intelligence, but on a tip from a foreign politician about a conversation involving Joseph Mifsud. He’s a Maltese diplomat who’s widely portrayed as a Russian agent, but seems to have for more connections with Western governments, including our own FBI and our own State Department, than with Russia.”

Mueller admitted that though Mifsud lied to the FBI he never charged him as he had others. When Nunes pointed out to Mueller that Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort business associate, whom Mueller’s report identifies as having ties to Russian intelligence, was actually a U.S. State Department asset, Mueller refused to comment saying he was “loath” to get into it.

This Schiff Has Sailed

The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA) used the word “lies” 19 times in his opening statement, which contained at least that many.

The central one was this:

“Your investigation determined that the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump himself, knew that a foreign power was intervening in our election and welcomed it, built Russian meddling into their strategy and used it.

Disloyalty to country. Those are strong words, but how else are we to describe a presidential campaign which did not inform the authorities of a foreign offer of dirt on their opponent, which did not publicly shun it or turn it away, but which instead invited it, encouraged it and made full use of it?”

Schiff reluctantly admitted that no Trump conspiracy with Russia was uncovered, but said the “crime” of disloyalty was even worse.

“Disloyalty to country violates the very oath of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded that we, the people and not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide who governs us,” said Schiff.

It was pure fantasy.

Mueller should have taken a pass on that one too.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .