What We Still Do Not Know About Russiagate
It must again be emphasized: It is hard, if not impossible, to think of a more toxic allegation in American presidential history than the one leveled against candidate, and then president, Donald Trump that he “colluded” with the Kremlin in order to win the 2016 presidential election—and, still more, that Vladimir Putin’s regime, “America’s No. 1 threat,” had compromising material on Trump that made him its “puppet.” Or a more fraudulent accusation.
Even leaving aside the misperception that Russia is the primary threat to America in world affairs, no aspect of this allegation has turned out to be true, as should have been evident from the outset. Major aspects of the now infamous Steele Dossier, on which much of the allegation was based, were themselves not merely “unverified” but plainly implausible.
Was it plausible, for example, that Trump, a longtime owner and operator of international hotels, would commit an indiscreet act in a Moscow hotel that he did not own or control? Or that, as Steele also claimed, high-level Kremlin sources had fed him damning anti-Trump information even though their vigilant boss, Putin, wanted Trump to win the election? Nonetheless, the American mainstream media and other important elements of the US political establishment relied on Steele’s allegations for nearly three years, even heroizing him—and some still do, explicitly or implicitly.
Not surprisingly, former special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. No credible evidence has been produced that Russia’s “interference” affected the result of the 2016 presidential election in any significant way. Nor was Russian “meddling” in the election anything akin to a “digital Pearl Harbor,” as widely asserted, and certainly far less and less intrusive than President Bill Clinton’s political and financial “interference” undertaken to assure the re-election of Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1996.
Nonetheless, Russiagate’s core allegation persists, like a legend, in American political life—in media commentary, in financial solicitations by some Democratic candidates for Congress, and, as is clear from my own discussions, in the minds of otherwise well-informed people. The only way to dispel, to excoriate, such a legend is to learn and expose how it began—by whom, when, and why.