Democrats’ Russiagate Fixation Has Obscured Trump’s True Crimes
What follows is a conversation between author Gerald Horne, Truthdig contributor Jeff Cohen and Paul Jay of the Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
So the Mueller report has been handed over to the attorney general, who handed over his memo to Congress. And we’re expecting, sooner or later, some real parts of the Mueller report will be handed over to the Congress. Of course, they’re asking for everything. But as everyone knows by now, the report found no collusion with the Russians and the interference in the elections.
Here’s Trump sitting next to Prime Minister Netanyahu from Israel, and Trump’s obviously pleased. Here’s a clip of that.
SPEAKER: Mr. President, so did this not turn out to be a witch hunt after all? Do you think Robert Mueller did a [crosstalk].
DONALD TRUMP: It’s been a long time, we’re glad it’s over. It’s 100 percent the way it should have been. But what they did, it was a false narrative, it was a terrible thing. We can never let this happen to another president again. I can tell you that. I say it very strongly. Very few people I know could have handled it. We can never ever let this happen to another president again.
PAUL JAY: And of course, sitting next to him is Netanyahu, who’s just dreaming that he’s going to get out of his own corruption crisis that he’s in up to his eyeballs, hoping “oh wow, if Trump can get away with everything, maybe I can too.” Anyway, various people, Democratic Party leadership and many people in the media and such who have been carrying the collusion can for all this time, just hoping Mueller would come out and sink Trump over this issue, were not very happy. Here’s Bill Maher.
BILL MAHER: I must say, I don’t think it looks good. No further indictments, which means not Don Jr., even after “I love it” memo, really? Did the Democrats put too much trust in the Mueller report? Because I don’t need the Mueller report to know he’s a traitor. I have a TV.
PAUL JAY: Did the Democrats put too much trust in Mueller? Well, how about you, Bill Maher? Maybe you put too much trust in the Democrats and Mueller. And anyone knows Mueller’s history. As Larry Wilkerson said, he’s been a cleanup man for the Republican Party since after 9/11, if not before. I don’t know why they expected anything else. At any rate, I personally didn’t care much whether Trump colluded, I don’t care much whether he didn’t collude. But we’ll get into all this.
But first of all, let me introduce our guests. First of all, joining us is Gerald Horne. Gerald teaches at the University of Houston and he’s the author of many books, including Storming the Heavens and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. Also joining us is Jeff Cohen. He’s co-founder of RootsAction.org and founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, and his books include Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. Thank you both for joining us.
JEFF COHEN: Great to be with you.
PAUL JAY: So Gerald, let me start with you. What was your reaction to all of this drama?
GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, I’d like to recommend the piece online by Matt Taibbi, who in exhaustive detail goes over the missteps with regard to the Democrats creating this so-called Russiagate scandal. And secondly, interestingly enough, in the New York Times, which I usually use to line my birdcage, there is a piece by Farhad Manjoo which suggests that the Democrats, in the wake of their astonishing loss to Donald Trump in November 2016, were looking for excuses and alibis, and they pointed the finger of accusation at Moscow in order to understand how Trump got 63 million votes.
They did not necessarily seek to understand why it is, for decades, the Democrats have lost the vote defined as white, sometimes at a rate at 9 to 1 in Dixie. And rather than do that kind of agonizing reappraisal, they came to the conclusion that Moscow was the culprit. They did not seek to explain or understand or comprehend how it is that black voters, for example, who use social media, managed to vote against Trump 9 to 1.
Likewise, I think that the so-called Russiagate scandal was part of a conflict at the highest ranks of the U.S. ruling elite. That is to say, how do you maintain hegemony and dominance? The Democrats thought that you should go after Russia first. Mr. Trump and those around him are putting the pressure on China. Mr. Trump won the electoral argument in November 2016, and that has led to an uproar, not least since so many in this country are heavily dependent upon an anti-Moscow psychosis to make a standard of living that they consider to be comfortable. And voila, out of that stew comes this 22 month investigation involving subpoena and witnesses and documents and all the rest.
And now, of course, some, in particular in the media, are left with egg on their face. I’d like to recommend the words of Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, who points the finger of accusation particularly at MSNBC and their multimillion dollar journalists, including Rachel Maddow, who made quite a living by beating the drums about Russia’s alleged interference in the internal affairs of the United States while downplaying not only Mr. Trump’s corruption, but also the fact that the United States has interfered in the internal affairs of virtually every nation on planet Earth.
PAUL JAY: Jeff?
JEFF COHEN: Yeah, I think Gerald has hit on something in that there’s been this emphasis in the mainstream media, especially MSNBC and CNN that are allied with the corporate Democratic Party leadership. And it’s been this obsessive focus on Russiagate to the exclusion of issues that might actually resonate with the U.S. voting public, like Trump’s corruption.
And what’s concerned me all along as a political analyst is the Democratic leadership, whenever anyone over the last two years would bring up impeachment–and there are so many provable, in light of day, done in public actions by Trump against sectors of the U.S. public, against the Constitution, against democratic process, whether it’s his refusal to divest his business interests which leads to financial conflicts of interest, that’s unconstitutional, the Muslim ban, you can’t discriminate against people based on religion, abuse of the pardon power with Joe Arpaio, politicizing federal prosecutions, attacks on the media coupled with threatening to use federal agencies to go after journalists that you don’t like. This kind of thing is unprecedented in modern presidential history and goes beyond Nixon.
And yet, all you got from Pelosi and other leaders when they were asked about these abuses and “what about impeachment,” they’d say, “We’re waiting for the Mueller report.” Those were some of the stupidest words ever uttered by a political leadership. And they did it for months and months, over and over, “We’re waiting for Mueller.” Well, Mueller was investigating this very narrow thing, did Trump’s associates conspire with Russia? And it was just very bad politics to put all their eggs in that basket. And this month, USA Today did a poll well before two days ago, and 50 percent plus a little bit more said they saw the Mueller probe as a witch hunt. If the polls are taken tomorrow, it’s going to be even bigger. So this whole strategy on the part of the Democratic Party leadership, sort of marginalizing the big issues of corruption and attacks on the constitution, pushing them to the side while waiting for Russia, Russia, Russia collusion and Mueller, that turns out to be, I think, a big political error.
PAUL JAY: And of course, the biggest issues one would think we’d go after Trump for, climate change denial being by far the most important, and then all the way down from what’s been happening in the Department of Justice and Department of Energy, the most reactionary set of policies that could possibly be imagined.
But Gerald, the Democrats have a deep, long-term investment in this kind of Russophobia. I mean, the House of Un-American Activities Committee, McCarthyism, was all under the Truman administration Democrats. There’s something about the Democrats that they don’t want to look weak on anything. But they particularly want to show their strength when it comes to Russia, so they’ve got this long-term narrative right in their DNA, that when under pressure, when you want to try to hit the Republicans, prove that the Democrats are even more anti-Russian, or anti-Soviet back in those days, than even the Republicans could be. Gerald?
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that you’re on to something. And I think that Democrats felt that during the Cold War era, they were bashed. That is to say, the liberals were bashed because they were seen as uncomfortably close to socialist and communist, which meant that they were in bed with Moscow. And they decided that they could flip the script on the Republicans by suggesting that it’s actually the Republicans who are in bed with Moscow.
What they didn’t count on is that the Republican Party base, 63 million strong, is not necessarily concerned with ideological consistency. They’re concerned with maintaining power, domination, and hegemony by any means necessary. And if that means consorting with a candidate such as Donald J. Trump who conflicts, allegedly, with their moral compass in terms of being a profane, obscene, thrice married billionaire, well they’ll change their policies, they’ll change their principles. As the comedian Groucho Marx says, “If you don’t like these principles, don’t worry, I have others.” And I think that that should be a lesson that we take away from this debacle known as Russiagate, which is that it does not work to try to use Republican Party tactics to destabilize a Republican Party president, because the Republican Party constituency is going to stick with their president no matter what.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, my uncle had a line like that, which was, “If you don’t like what I said, it’s not exactly what I meant.” And now, the Democrats, after putting so much into this collusion argument, are now going to have to switch gears and move to the corruption argument. Whereas Jeff said, if they’re going to go after Trump on the other, not on the most important issue, but if you’re going to just attack him, you would have been on the corruption issue all the way along. Now going on the corruption issue is going to look like sour grapes after you lost on the collusion. Jeff?
JEFF COHEN: Yeah, it’s bad strategy. I mean, in November, there were exit polls November 2018, and they found that virtually no voters cast their vote based on the Russia investigation. However, if the Democrats and MSNBC, which was all the while Russiagate, imagine if they had focused on Trump’s greed and self-interest and self-dealing and violations of the Constitution’s clauses that you can’t accept a financial benefit if you’re in office, if you’re the president. So it turns out to be a bad strategy. The good news is, and Aaron Mate, who used to be on Real News Network and wrote all these important articles for The Nation as well, a skeptic of the Russiagate narrative, he said the good news is now the resistance can turn to the big issues, the real issues that were often marginalized by this strategy of waiting for Mueller.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I actually don’t agree with that. Because the issue of collusion, yes, maybe Mueller put that away. But the fundamental issue that the bogeyman is the Russian interference in the election, the Mueller report reinforces, as far as I understand it, the Mueller report is going to confirm that the Russians did interfere in the elections. And it’s the underlying assumption that this is such a horrendous thing that’s the real problem. The collusion was secondary. The real issue was the Russophobia. Because even if the Russians did any of what they’re accused of doing–and I think what’s in the public domain, one can still remain skeptical of that. But even if they did, this is just normal stuff that big competitive countries do with each other. And I mean, the United States, we know, interferes in every election on Earth, as Gerald said.
Even Canada, as I’ve told this story before on The Real News, in the 1961 election, Kennedy actually sent the pollster Lou Harris up to Ottawa, and out of the basement of the U.S. Embassy ran Lester Pearson’s election campaign and framed the arguments based on what was then very modern polling methods. Lou Harris kind of invented all this stuff. And they defeated Diefenbaker. Why? Because he wouldn’t let nuclear missiles into Canada. So this goes on all the time. Why raise it to such a crazy level?
Well, I think it’s partly connected with in very beginning, as Gerald said, China was the Trump administration’s target, and of course Iran, we should never forget that. And they wanted to kind of have a sort of detente with Russia, not only to focus on China and Iran, but Tillerson had a big energy play, former Secretary of State and former head of Mobil Oil. They were going to make a deal with Putin to have a major investment into getting into Russian oil reserves. So there was even a whole level of kind of corruption going on there. So the underpinnings of all of this didn’t serve the underlying narrative of the Democratic Party, the Russophobia, and especially the underlying narrative of the military industrial complex that absolutely needs the Russians to be the existential enemy. Gerald?
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think basically, U.S. imperialism is now facing the worst of both worlds from its point of view. It has China clearly in the crosshairs, but it’s not clear as to whether or not that anti-Beijing strategy will work. And it’s also managed to alienate Russia. That is to say that Mr. Trump, because perhaps of pressure from the Democrats, has been arming the fascists in Ukraine, has come almost face to face and nose to nose with Russian troops in Syria, has been pressuring Berlin to ditch the gas deal with Russia as well. And so, instead of the Henry Kissinger-like strategy, which he enunciated for Mr. Trump in the pages of The Financial Times just last year, whereby he suggested that Washington needs to pivot towards closer relations with Moscow in order to bludgeon a rising China, the flip side of what he managed to execute in the early 1970s when he leaned towards Beijing in order to undermine Russia or undermine the Soviet Union, now the United States is faced with both antagonists, not to mention a resurgent Iran.
PAUL JAY: Jeff?
JEFF COHEN: Yeah, I’ll get back to the origins on the part of the Democrats. They had a lousy candidate for president. She was seen as corrupt, she was seen as the status quo. And as has been said earlier by you guys, there was an interest on their part to say, “It wasn’t us, we didn’t do anything wrong, it was the Russians,” or “it was Comey’s intervention.” So the origins of this is partly to blame someone else. I believe, and this is what the Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald and Aaron Mate critique is, that the mainstream media coverage of this has been abominable. And almost anything said about Russia–and I’m no friend of Putin–but almost anything said about Russia in the last two years, could be said, didn’t have to be true, and so much of what they said turned out to be false.
You had NBC and CNBC saying the Russians used this supersonic microwave technology to attack U.S. diplomats in Cuba turn out to be a crock. You had the Washington Post reporting that the Russians had hacked into the grid, the electric grid, the utility in Vermont. You had one of these stories after another, and a lot of it was very McCarthyite. And the most dangerous of them all was the Washington Post report which was hyped by its editor in a Tweet, Marty Baron, which took this obscure–I think it’s out of business now–this obscure alleged research firm that had, according to the Washington Post, a list–if that doesn’t sound McCarthyite enough–a list of 200 websites that were disseminating Russian propaganda throughout the 2016 election. And the Washington Post ran this garbage. And if you looked at the list, you found organizations like truthdig.com, a very solid journalistic outfit, Truthout.org, Black Agenda Report.
So you have, I think, in the mainstream media, a lot of this Russia-baiting which ended up being McCarthyite. And you had Glenn Greenwald was accused of being pro-Russian and an apologist for Trump. It never ends. It’s very dangerous. I am a critic of Putin, I see him as a right wing nationalist, anti-gay sexist, causing mischief in certain places, as is obvious, the U.S. has caused far more mischief in far more countries. So I’m no fan of Putin, but this was like, in the mainstream media, on MSNBC, CNN, Washington Post, was just old fashioned Russia-bashing, even when they had to concoct stuff. And remember, the big stories about Russian propaganda, Russia hacking into utilities, that was big news. The retractions were always smaller and many people don’t know those stories were retracted.
PAUL JAY: Gerald, just to finish up. So now we’re going to head into hearings, investigations. Mostly, I think, they’re going to focus on the corruption side of Trump.
JEFF COHEN: I hope so.
PAUL JAY: And one would hope the hearings start to focus on actually what policies that will solve the problems facing the people will look like. So this isn’t all just wound Trump, although I have to say to some extent, I welcome to see a bloodbath there. What do you think, Gerald?
GERALD HORNE: Well, there’s an old saying that “if you go after the king you should succeed, because if you don’t, the king will come after you.” And I think that Mr. Trump is now baying for blood, as are Republicans on Capitol Hill. Senator Lindsey Graham has already announced that he’s going to turn the tables and begin to investigate Democrats, investigate the Hillary Clinton campaign, their alleged connection to the so-called Steele Dossier, which I think should open the door to other kinds of foreign interference in the internal affairs of United States, including by British intelligence, including by the Saudi Arabians and the UAE via Thomas J. Barrack, the Arab American billionaire who was one of Mr. Trump’s closest comrades, including by Israel, which has a demonstrated record of interfering in the internal affairs of the United States.
But I’m not sure if either the Democrats or Republicans are interested in going down that path. But I do think that someone should examine the national security establishment of the United States, particularly Jim Clapper, a commentator on CNN who’s been responsible for a lot of mischief and misinformation, not to mention John Brennan, his comrade, who is a commentator on MSNBC who is similarly implicated. So it seems to me, rather than look into climate change, the Democrats and Republicans are going to be investigating each other.
PAUL JAY: Well, at least the leadership, the corporate Dems and the leadership of the two parties. I do want to correct both of you on one thing. I think whenever you use the word “mischief,” we should substitute the word “war crimes.” Are you guys all right with that?
JEFF COHEN: In many cases–
GERALD HORNE: Say that again?
PAUL JAY: I want to substitute your uses, both of you, your use of the word “mischief” and substitute the word “war crimes.”
GERALD HORNE: Oh, sure.
PAUL JAY: I assume you’re OK with that. Jeff, last word to you.
JEFF COHEN: In many cases, you can make that substitution. I think that the Democrats, if there was a progressive leadership in the Democratic Party, they would be focusing on all these other assaults, the corruption of Trump. But the progressives are not in power. Gerald raised the point I want to finish on, which is one of the few Russiagate stories that didn’t get the coverage it deserved was the guilty plea of Mike Flynn, who was briefly the National Security Chief. And a month before Trump took the White House, he pleaded guilty about lying to the FBI during that period a month before the White House when Obama had broken from the Israel right or wrong lobby and he made it clear that he was not going to veto at the United Nations a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
And in the guilty plea documents, you look at the court documents, it wasn’t really collusion with Russia so much as it was collusion with Israel. Because what’s described as a very senior Trump official directed Flynn, while Obama’s still the sitting president, to contact the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Kislyak, and ask Kislyak if the Russians would block the Israel resolution a the United Nations. And they apparently also reached out to Egypt to block it. So I mean, you had some real interesting evidence of collusion, but it was sort of the Trump transition team colluding with Israel. And it just never got the attention, it was one of the few Russiagate stories that got very little attention.
PAUL JAY: All right. Thank you both for joining us.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
JEFF COHEN: Thank you.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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