According to “Shattered,” a book that tells the inside story of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, within 24 hours of her loss, Clinton’s team developed a strategy to focus on Russian hacking. This would be presented as the untold story of the election, which explained her loss as being due to interference.
On Nov. 19, 10 days after Donald Trump’s victory, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) laid out a plan for “resisting” Trump: “We must keep our eyes on two important goals: depressing Trump’s public support and dividing the congressional GOP from him and from each other.”
Nadler argued that if Trump could be made unpopular, Republicans in Congress, especially those who were electorally vulnerable, would move away from supporting him, denying him the majority needed to pass his agenda.
On Dec. 31, the left-wing group Moveon.org, which rallies the Democrats’ base, sent out an email to its members urging them to “slow down and stop Trump and the GOP’s legislative agenda.”
On Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, the website Impeach Trump Now was launched.
On Jan. 30, Robert Kuttner, the co-editor of The American Prospect, argued that Trump must be removed either through impeachment or through the 25th amendment, which provides for removing an unfit president. Kuttner referred to Trump as “insane” and “unhinged.”
On Feb. 7, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) argued that Trump should be impeached if he colluded with Russia, bringing together the Clinton narrative of Russian interference and the drive to impeach Trump.
On Feb. 13, The Nation quoted one Democratic member of Congress as calling for impeachment due to Trump’s violation of the emolument clause in the Constitution, and another saying that impeachment could result from Trump not obeying a judge’s order that blocked his order on immigration.
A Feb. 14 New York Times story, relying on anonymous leaks that originated from intelligence services, reported that there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia “around the same time they [intelligence officials] were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee.” Stories like this shifted the media narrative and Democratic politicians began unifying behind the collusion charge for impeachment.
However, members of Congress, including Waters and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have said they have not seen any evidence of collusion. In the last two weeks, the drive to impeach Trump has shifted to the accusation that he is guilty of obstruction of justice.
Speaking on Fox News on May 18, the conservative scholar Victor Davis Hanson described the opposition to Trump “as a slow-motion coup where you have a nexus of celebrities, academics, the Democratic and progressive parties, and then you have the media, and they feel they can delegitimize a president with a thousand nicks.”
“Each day, the point is to drive his popularity down one half a point, one point, until he can’t function in Congress because purple state congressional representatives don’t want to take the risk to further his initiatives,” Hanson said.
Hanson pointed out that after six months of digging, the media had not found evidence of any actual wrongdoing by the Trump administration, but continued pushing out negative stories.
No Evidence of Collusion
“We did not include evidence in our report—and I say ‘our,’ that’s NSA, FBI, and CIA, with my office, the director of national intelligence—that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on March 5. In response to Todd’s question about whether such evidence existed, Clapper said, “Not to my knowledge.” When asked under oath before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8 whether his statement is still accurate, he said, “It is.“
“I think he’s right about characterizing the report which you all have read.”
Then-FBI Director James Comey, speaking under oath before a House Intelligence Committee on March 20, referring to a statement made by the former director of national intelligence that no evidence had been found of collusion between members of Trump’s team and Russia.
“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all. … There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”
Michael Morell, former acting CIA director under the Obama administration, as quoted by NBC News
“There are all kinds of rumors around. There are newspaper stories, but that’s not necessarily evidence.”
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on May 18, reaffirming that she had not seen any evidence showing collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia
“No, we have not.”
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), when asked by The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart whether she had seen any evidence that Trump colluded with Russia.
Accusations Against Trump
There have been two sets of accusations made against President Trump regarding Russia. The greatest attention has been paid to the possibility that Trump or the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election. Multiple investigations over months have yielded no evidence collusion occurred.
The second accusation has been that Trump has obstructed the investigations into possible collusion.
Until recently, that accusation has also been unsupported.
At a May 3 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then-FBI Director James Comey said he had “in his experience” not been pressured to close an investigation for political purposes. Translation: There had been no obstruction of the Russia investigation.
On May 11, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that there had been no obstruction of the Russia investigation.
However, remarks made by Trump to Comey, to administration officials, and to Russian officials inside the Oval Office have given new life to the accusation of obstruction of justice.
Trump is reported to have said, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” and, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. … I’m not under investigation.”
The comments are said to be based on notes taken in the Oval Office that were circulated as the official record of the meeting and were reported by The New York Times on May 19.
Comey also claimed that at a private dinner in January, Trump asked for his loyalty, and in February asked him to drop the investigation of the recently fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. These accusations surfaced on May 11 and May 16, respectively, after Comey’s firing on May 9. Trump has denied both accounts.
Comey has not claimed these incidents were obstruction of justice–if they were, he would be derelict in not reporting them.
To prove obstruction, the government must prove intent. The relevant statute stipulates that “the defendant corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending.”
Newly appointed special counsel Robert Mueller includes in his duties investigating obstruction of justice, and the recent revelations have sparked a number of news stories anticipating that Mueller will open such an investigation against Trump.
Did Russia Try to Influence the Elections?
“The Russians used cyber operations against both political parties, including hacking into servers used by the Democratic National Committee and releasing stolen data to WikiLeaks and other media outlets. Russia also collected on certain Republican Party-affiliated targets, but did not release any Republican-related data. The Intelligence Community Assessment concluded first that President Putin directed and influenced [a] campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process. Second, that he did so to demean Secretary Clinton, and third, that he sought to advantage Mr. Trump,” said former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8.
The DNI report’s core claim of Russian interference is based heavily on grounds that Russian news outlet RT reported favorably on Trump and negatively on Clinton, and it alleges these articles received traction in U.S. news outlets and social networks, as stated in the declassified version of the report published by the DNI on Jan. 7.
Meanwhile, information on the origin of cyberattacks that allegedly stole Clinton campaign emails and provided them to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks is disputed. Instead, Wikileaks has several times pointed implicitly to murdered DNC staff member Seth Rich as the source of the leak.
A report by cybersecurity company Crowdstrike solicited by the DNC pointed to Russia, using inconclusive methodologies that look at code and intentions but not at hard proof. Other sources, including cybersecurity company SnoopWall, have investigated the source of the cyberattack and noted that while it was bounced off a Russian server, it originated in Europe.
No Evidence of Russian Interference in Voting
Russia’s attempts to influence the elections did not extend to interference with actual vote tallying. During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on March 20, both FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers said that there has not been any intelligence or evidence that suggests that any votes were changed as a result of Russian interference.
Unmasking and Leaking
By default, identities of Americans are “masked” in intelligence reports to protect their privacy if their communications are incidentally collected.
“Unmasking” refers to the practice of revealing identities. To protect the privacy of Americans, requests for unmasking can only be made by a small number of people in government and intelligence agencies.
During the 2016 elections, members of Donald Trump’s campaign team had their identities unmasked by then-national security adviser Susan Rice. At this moment it is unclear whether the unmasking requests were for legitimate or political purposes.
Unmasked identities are only provided to the person who made the request. However, the identities of members of the Trump team have subsequently been spread throughout the government and to media organizations.
Donald Trump’s presidency has been marred by anonymous leaks. Notably, The Washington Post and The New York Times have used anonymous sources on multiple occasions to spread claims that Trump colluded with Russia. However, the leakers appear to have provided the information for political purposes, and in many cases the leaks lack context.
Before Trump was inaugurated, officials with the Obama administration made a concerted effort to spread intelligence information on the Trump team across the government, according to Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Obama, speaking on MSNBC on March 28.
Trump has repeatedly called for the leakers to be caught. There are several federal laws prohibiting the leaking of classified information, with violators facing years in prison.
Retired Gen. Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn had served 30 years in the military before being appointed by then-President Obama as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency—a position he was fired from in 2014.
Flynn, an early supporter of Trump, was appointed as national security adviser. The retired general was then forced to resign on Feb. 13 after he had misinformed Vice President Mike Pence about a phone call he had with the Russian ambassador in December.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified on March 8 before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that she had warned the White House that Flynn had not been truthful, based on an FBI investigation.
Flynn apparently misled Pentagon investigators about his foreign connections when he sought to renew his security clearance in early 2016, according to a document obtained by congressional Democrats and released in part.
Flynn has declined to comply with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee as it investigates possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, invoking his Fifth Amendment constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
Republicans Pulling Away
Since the Comey firing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared that President Trump’s priorities “are not necessarily ours,” according to Bloomberg.
McConnell has said any tax reform must be revenue neutral, while Trump wants big tax cuts that will spur economic growth but may not immediately pay for themselves. And McConnell is opposed to Trump’s plan to slash the State Department budget.
McConnell has said he would not support a big infrastructure plan or fight for a border wall.
Taken together, McConnell has set himself against major issues—bold tax reform, a smaller federal government, a major infrastructure initiative, and a border wall—that Trump campaigned on.
Bloomberg quotes several senators and representatives who are tired of the drama of the Trump White House and are less supportive of Trump.
This pulling away of Republicans in Congress from Trump aligns with the Democratic strategy articulated by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, which urged Democrats to attack Trump in hopes of causing electorally vulnerable Republicans to waver, thus denying Trump the ability to enact his agenda.
The “deep state” is the permanent government of the United States—unelected officials with broad powers, who don’t have to worry about political terms. These include State Department officials, Justice Department officials, and members of the intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies.
“What this president has done—his first 100-plus days, even before he came into office—is pick fights with the intelligence community and now the law enforcement community. … So we know that they talk about the deep state; well, these are communities that have a lot of loyalty within, and know how to get back, even if you’re the president of the United States,” said CNN reporter Dana Bash on May 16.
Two studies done of the news coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days in office have, using different methodologies, reached similar conclusions. The press has been unprecedentedly negative in reporting on Trump and his administration.
A study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy analyzed “news reports in the print editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, the main newscasts of CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC, and three European news outlets (The UK’s Financial Times and BBC, and Germany’s ARD).”
The Shorenstein Center found that 80 percent of the coverage of Trump was negative. The coverage of presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama in their first 100 days was, respectively, 60, 57, and 41 percent negative.
“Trump’s coverage was unsparing,” The Shorenstein Center reported. “In no week did the coverage drop below 70 percent negative, and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak.” The coverage was very negative across all topics except the economy, where the coverage was only 54 percent negative. CNN and NBC were the most negative American outlets, with coverage that was 93 percent negative.
Why Trump Fired Comey
President Donald Trump and the White House have given multiple accounts of why FBI Director James Comey was fired. News media have emphasized contradictions from one day to the next in the accounts, but have failed to notice the underlying consistency and overlooked what may be Trump’s most important considerations in firing Comey.
In Trump’s May 9 letter to Comey informing him of his termination, Trump stated that Comey was “not able to effectively lead the bureau.” New leadership was needed to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI.
The White House released a memo by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that detailed the “serious mistakes” Comey had made. This memo was said by various White House spokespersons to be the reason for Comey’s firing.
In the July 5 press conference Comey held about the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, Comey usurped the authority of the attorney general and announced the conclusion of the investigation without the authorization of Justice Department leaders.
Also, by announcing derogatory information about the suspect of a declined criminal investigation, Comey violated Clinton’s rights. Rosenstein said this was a “textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
Rosenstein also criticized Comey’s announcement on Oct. 28 of the reopening of the investigation into Clinton’s emails. The long-standing policy is to “refrain from publicizing non-public information.”
Rosenstein concluded that the bureau is unlikely to regain public trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of Comey’s mistakes and “pledges never to repeat them.”
On May 11, in an interview with NBC, Trump said he was going to fire Comey no matter what Rosenstein’s memo said, contradicting his spokespeople. Trump blamed Comey for exonerating Clinton when she was clearly guilty. Among others, Andrew McCarthy of National Review has pointed out that Clinton’s actions fit those proscribed by the Espionage Act, and that Comey, in his July press conference, had misstated the grounds for guilt under that act.
Trump also told NBC that because of Comey’s actions, the FBI was in turmoil.
Finally, Trump admitted he had considered the relevance of the Russia collusion investigation, but decided that the investigation was not a good reason to refrain from firing Comey. In Trump’s words, “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
On May 19, The New York Times reported, on the basis of an alleged leaked transcript, that Trump said in a May 10 Oval Office meeting with Russian officials: “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job.”
“I faced great pressure because of Russia,” said Trump, as reported by the Times. “That’s taken off.”
The next day, press secretary Sean Spicer released a statement saying, “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”
To summarize, Trump and members of his administration have asserted in multiple ways that Comey was incompetent in his handling of the Clinton email investigation; that he acted inappropriately, taking on roles that were not properly his; that his actions brought the FBI into turmoil; and that he showed bad character, as was also evident in his conduct during the Russia investigation.
These accounts reported in the media ignore what Paul Sperry, in an article for the New York Post, called the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” leading to Comey’s firing. Comey failed or was unwilling to investigate the torrent of leaks that are aimed at undermining the Trump administration, and Trump’s concern at Comey’s failure was shared by Republican leaders in Congress, Sperry reported.
Sperry also reported remarks by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) confirming that Trump himself was not a target of the ongoing Russia investigation.
Clinton, Podesta Russia Ties
John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, joined the board of Massachusetts-based energy company Joule Energy in 2011 two months before it received a $35 million investment from Rusnano, a Russian government-owned joint-stock company, according to a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Institute (GAI).
Podesta claimed he disclosed his 75,000 stock shares in the company, and transferred them in 2014 the same month he became counselor under president Barack Obama.
However, according to the GAI report, Podesta’s disclosure “does not cover the years 2011–2012.” It also states that while Podesta is listed on the corporate records, “he failed to disclose his membership on the board of Joule Stichting in his federal financial disclosure forms when he joined the Obama White House as a senior advisor.”
The Podesta Group, co-founded by Podesta, lobbied Washington on behalf of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, as exposed by the Panama Papers, a leak of millions of documents on offshore entities. Tony Podesta, brother of John Podesta and chairman of The Podesta Group, is a registered lobbyist for Russia’s Sberbank and was a top campaign bundler and contributor for Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital, owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, for a speech in 2010. Hillary Clinton disclosed this payment. Around the same time, Renaissance Capital was involved in a deal to obtain Uranium One, a Canada-based uranium company with operations in the United States. The State Department, under Hillary Clinton, signed off on the transfer; at the same time, the Clinton Foundation received payments from the organization. The New York Times reported in April 2015 that “as the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation.”
According to the report from the GAI, “Nine Uranium One shareholders donated more than $145 million to the Clinton Foundation,” and some of them, including one from Uranium One Chairman Ian Telfer, “had not been disclosed by the Clinton Foundation.”