How Did Russiagate Begin?
It cannot be emphasized too often: Russiagate—allegations that the American president has been compromised by the Kremlin and which may even have helped to put him in the White House—is the worst and (considering the lack of actual evidence) most fraudulent political scandal in American history. We have yet to calculate the damage Russsiagate has inflicted on America’s democratic institutions, including the presidency and the electoral process, and on domestic and foreign perceptions of American democracy, or on US-Russian relations at a critical moment when both sides, having “modernized” their nuclear weapons, are embarking on a new, more dangerous, and largely unreported arms race.
Rational (if politically innocent) observers may have thought that when the Mueller Report found no “collusion” or other conspiracy between Trump and Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, only possible “obstruction” by Trump—nothing Mueller said in his May 29 press statement altered that conclusion—Russiagate would fade away. If so, they were badly mistaken. Evidently infuriated that Mueller did not liberate the White House from Trump, Russiagate promoters—liberal Democrats and progressives foremost among them—have only redoubled their unverified collusion allegations, even in once-respectable media outlets. Whether out of political ambition or impassioned faith, the damage wrought by these Russiagaters continues to mount, with no end in sight.
One way to end Russiagate might be to discover how it actually began. Considering what we have learned, or been told, since the allegations became public nearly three years ago, in mid-2016, there seem to be at least three hypothetical possibilities:
1. One is the orthodox Russiagate explanation: Early on, sharp-eyed top officials of President Obama’s intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA and FBI, detected truly suspicious “contacts” between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians “linked to the Kremlin” (whatever that may mean, considering that the presidential administration employs hundreds of people), and this discovery legitimately led to the full-scale “counter-intelligence investigation” initiated in July 2016. Indeed, Mueller documented various foreigners who contacted, or who sought to contact, the Trump campaign. The problem here is that Mueller does not tell us, and we do not know, if the number of them was unusual.
Many foreigners seek “contacts” with US presidential campaigns and have done so for decades. In this case, we do not know, for the sake of comparison, how many such foreigners had or sought contacts with the rival Clinton campaign, directly or through the Clinton Foundation, in 2016. (Certainly, there were quite a few contacts with anti-Trump Ukrainians, for example.) If the number was roughly comparable, why didn’t US intelligence initiate a counter-intelligence investigation of the Clinton campaign?
If readers think the answer is because the foreigners around the Trump campaign included Russians, consider this: In 1988, when Senator Gary Hart was the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, he went to Russia—still Communist Soviet Russia—to make contacts in preparation for his anticipated presidency, including meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. US media coverage of Hart’s visit was generally favorable. (I accompanied Senator Hart and do not recall much, if any, adverse US media reaction.)