Archaeological Notes on ‘Russia’
After the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian interference with the US election, I had to renew my press credentials and took the elevator down to the private subway that runs beneath the Capitol. As the train approached and the glass doors opened, I imagined a shirtless Alex Jones screaming that this subway is evidence of the Deep State.
Whatever role Russia, the actual country, played in Trump’s election, “Russia” is now the battlefield in which our conspiracy theories play out.
Revising recent history
As I was whisked beneath the halls of government, shortly after FBI Director James B. Comey confirmed that the bureau was investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer demonstrated that even if the regime did not have ties to Putin, it had thoroughly absorbed his techniques.
“General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign,” he said. And Paul Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
Flynn played a prominent role in the campaign and served as national security advisor until he resigned because of a failure to disclose meetings with a Russian ambassador. Manafort was the campaign chairman until Trump fired him when his connections to pro-Russian Ukrainian interests became a burden on the campaign. These facts are indisputable and yet Spicer disregarded them. In the days since then, the AP revealed that Manafort signed a $10 million-per-year deal with a Russian oligarch to help improve the image of the Putin regime in America.
Long before Putin, Stalin made a habit of revising history. Trotsky was erased from the revolution entirely. How far can they go with Manafort?
Palace intrigue and Putin’s polonium
“Donald Trump will resign ‘soon,’ says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein,” an Independent headline reads. She actually said, of allegations that Trump has violated various laws: “We have a lot of people looking into this, technical people. I think he’s going to get himself out.”
Who knows what she actually means by “get himself out,” but plenty of people seem to be possessed of this idea that Trump is going to go down soon.
This seems extremely unlikely. Trump escalates. He does not de-escalate.
Others think that Vice-President Mike Pence and the Cabinet will use the 25th Amendment to boot Trump from office. No way. The Deplorables would all see it as a coup and would fight. The left would see a fatal weakness in Pence and the party, and they would lose virtually every race they run.
Now if Pence could maintain the support of the Deplorables and unite the country behind him and crack down on dissent? If Pence were Putin, polonium would be his best bet. We are not that far gone yet.
The impeachment punchline
“Get ready for impeachment,” California Rep. Maxine Waters tweeted last week.
The House Republicans will never impeach Trump. They are too deeply tied to him now. Their party will be forever destroyed. They will escalate.
California Rep. Devin Nunes—who chairs the House committee investigating Russia—worked on the Trump transition team.
After the hearing, he told Mother Jones’ David Corn that he had never heard of longtime Trump aide and Republican rat-fucker Roger Stone or super-shady upstart adviser Carter Page, both of whom are under investigation for their ties to Russia.
Then, two days later, Nunes held a press conference. “I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored,” Nunes said. “It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the president-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”
Nunes was seemingly the only person the information was shared with—although he shared news of its existence with the press and the White House before sharing it with the committee he heads.
When asked about his impartiality, Nunes said: “I’m not worried about that. I’m the chairman of the intelligence committee. It concerned me enough to have to notify the president because it was him and his transition team that were involved in this and he needs to be able to see those reports.”
“All of us are in the dark, and that makes what the chairman did today all the more extraordinary,” ranking Democrat Adam Schiff said, questioning the committee’s ability to continue the investigation and calling for an independent investigator.
The darkness favors Trump’s conspiracies. The far right interpreted Nunes’ claim as proof that Obama had “tapped” Trump Tower.
Fake news and the chaos machine
The authoritarian chaos machine uses each scandal to its advantage. Immediately after the election, when a slew of stories examined the role that “fake news” played in the campaign, it looked bad for Trump. Then, during his first press conference as president-elect, Trump screamed “You are fake news!” at CNN’s Jim Acosta.
Trump and his allies are almost the only ones using the phrase now—and they use it solely in reference to legitimate news outlets.
This is what scares me the most about “Russia.” When it looked like Trump was going to lose the election, he declared it was rigged. That was the best thing he could possibly have said if he were, hypothetically, in the process of stealing the election. Stalin regularly accused his enemies of the very things he was doing. In Trump’s case, it would have forced his opponent’s supporters to blindly vouch for the election system, so that any subsequent charges of it actually being rigged could be called sour grapes.
In the intelligence committee hearing, Comey said that Russia will be back in 2020, and that looks like pretty good ammo for Trump.
If he loses the election, he could say it was compromised by the Russians and cancel its results—the most Putinesque move possible.
The subway stopped, the doors opened, and I reemerged from underground, weighted down with Dostoyevskian dread.
BONUS: Congress goes ‘berserk’ over Russia
Like the rest of the country, Congress has gone crazy.
“The idea that Russia could come in and interfere with our election, all of us should be going berserk,” Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings said last week, summarizing the mood on at least half of the Hill.
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee questioned Comey and Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the NSA, during a hearing investigating Russian interference into the last presidential election. Democrats focused their questioning on collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, Republicans focused, almost exclusively, on tracking down and prosecuting the source of leaks, such as those regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with a Russian ambassador.
Then on Wednesday, the chair of the intelligence committee Devin Nunes held a press conference after bringing new information, not to his committee, but to the White House.
“It is many Americans who feel like the things that underpin our democracy have been attacked over and over and over again.”
“I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored,” Nunes said. “It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the president-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”
Again, Nunes worked on the Trump transition team.
Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff was furious. “If the chairman is going to continue to go to the White House rather than his own committee then how are we going to be able to conduct this investigation,” he fumed on TV.
Thursday, as the showdown over healthcare dragged on, the battle exploded in a routine meeting of the House Oversight Committee when Stephen Lynch, the Democrat from Massachusetts, called for his committee to begin its own investigation.
“We have enough here just to do an investigation and this is just the stuff that is unclassified that the intelligence community has put out there,” Lynch said.
Republican Committee chair Jason Chaffetz tried to shut Lynch down, arguing that the sources and methods needed for such an investigation are “the sole jurisdiction of the intelligence committee,” and saying that it would be inappropriate for a bipartisan committee to investigate the hack of a political party.
“We’re going to have to dive into a political party’s infrastructure, operations, data. I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said.
Lynch called the interference with the democratic process “a red line.”
“We should not allow that and it should be a very serious obligation of this committee to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We had nine separate investigations into Hillary Clinton.”
Chaffetz shut Lynch down, declaring his time was up, but Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, took up the cry for an investigation.
“This has been an attack on our democracy, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Lynch is one of our greatest members and the passion he has expressed is not limited to him. It is many Americans who feel like the things that underpin our democracy have been attacked over and over and over again.”
The Hill reported that, around the same time, Nunes apologized to the committee for going to the President—the subject of the investigation—before going to him.
“I heard he apologized today, which was good,” Lynch told Democracy in Crisis, following the Oversight Committee meeting. “I think they need to expand the investigation, maybe bring in independent people do the investigation as opposed to having the intelligence committee alone be the investigator.”
“I think there are a number of committees that are qualified to do an investigation. Some of them have a record of being very independent like my own [Oversight Committee],” he added. “I’d like to see as much sunlight shed on the details of this as possible. But I think it may be a case where you need a special prosecutor or special investigator to conduct the investigation.”
Tips to [email protected] Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday.