Whenever President Donald Trump is caught doing wrong, he answers with categorical denial and a fervent claim that he was wronged. Almost since the day he won election in November 2016, that is how Trump and his minions in politics and media have sought to obscure the glaring and indecent fact that he was sponsored by a Russian dictator who remains deeply hostile to our country.
So we have a president who gaslights his benighted followers with every variety of fable, myth and slander designed to distract from the ugly truth.
That is why Trump insists we should credit winking denials of election interference by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russians over the factual findings and warnings of the U.S. intelligence community, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and reliable European allies such as the Dutch intelligence service, which recorded the Kremlin machinations in real time.
That is why he maligns U.S. federal law enforcement personnel. He repeatedly accuses them of crimes and political bias, and even charges with treason, because they prosecuted crimes by his crooked campaign aides.
That is why he and his deranged associate Rudy Giuliani have fabricated a fraudulent story about “Ukrainian interference” in the 2016 election on behalf of his opponent, and why the most abject politicians in his camp knowingly echo such lies. And that is why Trump and those same politicians concocted “Spygate,” a tale about partisan espionage against the Trump 2016 campaign ordered by then-President Barack Obama and perpetrated by federal agents.
But now the Justice Department’s thoroughly professional and nonpartisan inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has delivered an exhaustive report that should put a steel girder through Spygate. After months of examining detailed evidence and interviewing relevant witnesses, Horowitz found no evidence at all to support the president’s fevered accusations. (Is anybody really surprised?)
Both in his report and in Senate testimony on Wednesday, Horowitz firmly rejected the Trump tale of a malicious “deep state” conspiracy against him. To the contrary, said the inspector general, the opening of “Crossfire Hurricane,” code name for the Russian-interference investigation, went strictly according to regulations and without political bias of any kind. Horowitz stands by that finding, despite bizarre attempts at counterspin by both Attorney General William Barr and special counsel John Durham, assigned by Barr to investigate Crossfire Hurricane. (Durham may soon ruin his credible reputation by serving as a lackey to Barr, whose own reputation is already in tatters.)
It is true that Horowitz also found troubling errors or worse in the applications to surveil Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser with a history of connections to Russian intelligence. But Page was never indicted, and Horowitz found no similar problems in the surveillance of other Trump associates, several of whom have been convicted of felonies. Until now, most Republicans have ignored the civil liberties issues raised by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the special court that administers that law. Predictably, they’ll return to ignoring those issues when FISA’s faults can no longer be deployed to shield Trump.
What matters more — amid impeachment over Trump’s attempt to promote Kremlin propaganda and undermine Ukraine — is keeping a steady focus on the aggressive Russian campaign against Western democracy. In recent months, Giuliani and his associates have served as the principal vectors of that campaign, with their nefarious dissemination of fake “evidence” against former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and their bumbling effort to exonerate former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of his crimes in Ukraine.
With increased visibility into Giuliani’s strange maneuvers has come fresh and disturbing evidence that he is advancing a Kremlin operation, wittingly or not. First, reports emerged that his legal and business associates are seeking to assist the Putin-affiliated Ukrainian gas oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
And now the Southern District of New York has asked the court to revoke bail for Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the disreputable pair of Giuliani (and Trump) associates under indictment for laundering Russian money into a Trump political committee. Prosecutors were alarmed to discover that Parnas had received $1 million “from Russia” — and it was Parnas who made a $500,000 payment to Giuliani.
Not only was there collusion between Trump Tower and the Kremlin in 2016 but that collusion apparently continues to this day. Our country and its values are under unrelenting attack in an information war waged by Putin — and some of our fellow Americans are giving aid and comfort to the other side.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.