Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has turned over a large tranche of emails and documents to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating unfounded rumors that Stein was part of a Russian plot to subvert the 2016 US presidential election.

However, she has refused to oblige a series of demand that that the Green Party hand over “all communications with Russian media organizations, their employees, or associates, from February 6, 2015.” The committee also insisted it turn over “all communications related to the campaign’s policy discussions related to Russia” and “all communications with Russian persons.”

These requests provide one of the most revealing examples to date of the government’s exploitation of Russia hysteria to suppress independent politics and alternative media in the US. In its demand for communications with “Russian persons,” the Senate committee has weaponized xenophobia to implicate Stein and intimidate other public figures against associating with anyone of Russian origin. With a few notable exceptions, this escalation of the Russiagate investigation has gone largely without notice by American media.

Suppressing RT and criminalizing diplomacy

In its reference to “Russian media,” the Senate committee was clearly referring to RT, which provided Stein with an occasional platform during the 2016 campaign. (She also appeared regularly on mainstream cable news programs and in a CNN town hall). By singling out Stein’s public appearances on RT, the committee painted the Russian-backed news network in essentially the same light that Mike Pompeo’s CIA cast Wikileaks: as a “hostile foreign intelligence agency.” Stein’s campaign is nevertheless cooperating on this front and providing all documents related to her RT interviews.

The Senate appeared to base its view of RT on the January 2017 DNI report on Russian interference. While failing to provide hard evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the 23 page DNI report contained seven pages of crude content analysis of two RT programs that are no longer on air, accusing both of fomenting “radical discontent.” The DNI report went on to frame a third party debate hosted by RT America as an act of Russian information warfare. (The national cable satellite industry funded outlet C-Span has hosted nationally televised forums for third party candidates during the past two presidential elections).

Jill Stein was a guest at RT’s 10th anniversary celebration, where she appeared at a gala dinner and public media forum in Moscow in 2015. I was also a guest at the event, and interviewed Stein this year about her participation. She emphasized that she paid her own way to Moscow and had no opportunity for any substantial discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin or any other high-level Russian official.

To the Senate committee, however, the mere presence of Stein at a banquet table with Putin for a total of two minutes indicated that a sinister plot was afoot. Its inquiry into Stein appears to have been based largely on allegations contained in the so-called Steele Dossier. That document was a collection of unverified claims cobbled together by a former MI5 agent named Christopher Steele, who was paid by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. According to journalist Howard Blum, Steele relied on “an army of sources whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years.” James Comey’s FBI attempted to fund the continuation of the dossier, but the arrangement fell apart after Steele’s identity was publicly exposed.

By demanding all Green Party policy communications related to Russia, the Senate committee has sent the message that independent parties risk official retribution for bucking the Washington consensus. Its request is only the latest blow to any hope for detente between Washington and Moscow, and another reason why serious discussions between officials of the two nuclear powers will likely have to take place through secret back channels until well into the foreseeable future.

Casting all “Russian persons” under suspicion

Throughout the saga of Russiagate, Americans have been indoctrinated to fear not only the Russian state, but “the Russians” as a whole. Once the narrative of Trump-Russian collusion formed in mid-2016, liberal media quickly filled with terrifying headlines about Russian anchor babies, scary lists of Russian people at Davos, warnings of Russian Jewish emigres in America, and horror stories about the brain-contaminating green meddling rays of RT projecting outwards from flatscreens. According to James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence and now part of CNN’s armada of on-air former intelligence contributors, Russians “typically are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique.”

Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded that the Green Party fork over any and every document related to contacts with “Russian persons.” The request is the most disturbing reflection yet of the xenophobic politics of Russiagate. Imagine if the US government was investigating a third party politician for their contacts with “the Mexicans,” or “the Indians,” or any other foreign national group with a significant presence inside the US. An outcry would immediately ensue among liberal-minded Americans, protests by immigrant rights groups would likely erupt, and the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards would issue thunderous condemnation of the McCarthyite proceedings.

Oddly, the committee’s demand that Stein identify every Russian she spoke to in 2016 — apparently including Russian-Americans — has been greeted with almost total silence, if not the outright approval, of the national media. And ironically, those who have most heartily supported the investigation into Stein’s dealings with “Russian persons” are the Democrats who have united against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and slammed his nativist diatribes.

Invoking the Constitution

In a letter to the Senate, Stein’s lawyer, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, rebuffed the committee’s request, declaring that her campaign “will not participate in a hunt for the identification of persons based on nationality or descent.” Emphasizing the unconstitutional nature of the demand, Verheyden-Hilliard added that “in the United States there are millions of persons whose ancestry includes Russian heritage, rendering the request impossible to satisfy, aside from its impropriety and the chilling effect it would have on political speech and engagement in political activity.”

In refusing to oblige the Senate committee’s most heavy-handed demands, Verheyden-Hilliard has invoked “constitutional privilege arising from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” Thus the Stein campaign has asserted constitutionally protected freedoms against an official inquisition driven by rumor, innuendo, and xenophobia. So who is undermining democracy here?

The full text of Verheyden-Hilliard’s letter can be viewed here.

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