By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Here is a sixth post debunking two common talking points by die-in-the-last-ditch Clinton loyalists and Democrat Establishment operatives. For both talking points, I’ll give a quotation that illlustrates the myth, followed by rebuttals. (Three previous talking points are debunked here, two more here, two more here, and one more here.) As usual, I hope you’ll find the rebuttals useful if these topics come up
I’ll cover talking points related to — drumroll, please — Russia, and therefore a bad-faith effort could be made to frame this post as — gasp — Russian propaganda. Let me assure readers at once that even though I’m writing this from my spandy new Russian dacha, that doesn’t have the slightest influence on my views! That said — [Yes, Dmitri? Was there more? Raskolnikov!] — That said, Yves said to go ahead with this topic. However, Yves doesn’t review what I write before posting, so any errors or omissions are solely my own.
The topic of Russian influence on the election, and Russian influence over (or, in strong form, control of) President-Elect Trump has already generated a vast literature, if I may so call it, in the echo chamber created by the political class. Frankly, I don’t have the days it would take to sort all the talking points out. So I’m going to limit my scope to the talking points used by candidate Clinton in the third Presidential debate; Clinton’s performance was, after all, Ground Zero for these talking points, and gave all her supporters in the political class and the electorate license to expand on them.
Let’s remember that anything Clinton said in the debate was carefully engineered by the Clinton campaign team. Here’s a description of Clinton’s debate preparation from Politico:
[Karen] Dunn and her partner Ron Klain – the two most experienced debate prep specialists in Democratic politics – … are overseeing an orderly and intensely secretive process.
Clinton’s advisers, in conversations over the last month, have repeatedly emphasized that the mock debate session, while important, is less vital than the informal law school sessions where Clinton hashes out her reactions and attacks. “It’s a moot court set-up,” said a Clinton insider. “She’s doing less of the usual mock debate sessions, with 100 people standing around, this time.”
[L]ongtime Clinton aide Phillippe Reines [and the] buttoned-down, courtly Klain has also stood in parrying questions with Clinton, according to people close to the situation – but both men have been less concerned with imitating Trump than preparing Clinton for the substance of the attacks, two keen attorneys framing Clinton’s reactions in the precise, disciplined language their lawyerly candidate thrives on.
Clinton’s experience and confidence can make her an intimidating person to prep — when you count her own three dozen on-stage debates there is arguably no one in American politics with more prime-time experience. Her coaches, however, are also longtime debate aficionados — campaign consultants Joel Benenson, Jim Margolis and Mandy Grunwald all sit in on prep, as does Palmieri, longtime attorney Bob Barnett, senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan, Podesta, occasionally Bill Clinton, younger policy aides who have helped compile the thick green binders of prep materials, and others.
Klain and Dunn, who report directly to Sullivan, not only offer an overarching strategy, but act as speechwriters — line-writers, really — paring down language and crafting practiced lines.
In other words, Clinton’s talking points are most likely to be “practiced lines” “crafted” by very smart Democrats; each will be the best shot the Clinton Team could take.
Talking Point: 17 Intelligence Agencies Confirmed that Russia Is Trying to Influence the Election
Here is Clinton deploying the talking point in the third debate:
[CLINTON:] And what’s really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions. Then they have given that information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting it on the Internet.
This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government, clearly, from Putin himself, in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election.
And Clinton broadens the scope of her attack, merging Wikileaks with espionage with cyberattacks (I assume “hacking”) generally, and broadening “influence” to “interference”:
[CLINTON:] We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 — 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.
So, let’s look at some problems with Clinton’s talking point.
First, we have no way of knowing whether Clinton’s claim is true. Her claim comes from this joint statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Politifact:
The U.S. Intelligence Community is made up of 17 agencies, forming the basis of Clinton’s claim.
The 17 agencies are: Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Energy Department, Homeland Security Department, State Department, Treasury Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Navy Intelligence and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The 17 separate agencies did not independently declare Russia the perpetrator behind the hacks…. However, as the head of the 17-agency intelligence community, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, headed by James Clapper, speaks on behalf of the group.
We don’t know how many separate investigations into the attacks they were. But the Director of National Intelligence, which speaks for the country’s 17 federal intelligence agencies, released a joint statement saying the intelligence community at large is confident that Russia is behind recent hacks into political organizations’ emails. The statement sourced the attacks to the highest levels of the Russian government and said they are designed to interfere with the current election.
We rate Clinton’s statement True.
Carefully parsing Politfact’s story against what Clinton actually said, I rate Clinton’s carefully engineered statement as not proven, and certainly not true. “17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed” is not the same as “James Clapper says that 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed.” First, we simply don’t know, as Politfact admits, that any of the individual agencies confirmed anything. I mean, was Coast Guard Intelligence really a serious player? Second, we don’t know the quality of the confirmations. What was the interagency process? Were any of the confirmations tested or cross-checked against each other? Or were the confirmations mere formalities? Third, is there a reason other than authoritarian followership to trust James Clapper? Bringing me to my next point–
Second, Clinton’s claim rests on the word of a proven liar. Here’s the blogosphere’s doyenne of national security and civil liberties, Marcy Wheeler on James Clapper:
Obviously Bogus Clapper Exoneration Attempt 4.0
Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data, at all, on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Clapper: No sir.
Wyden: It does not?
Clapper: There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, uh, collect, but not wittingly. [After 6:38]
The first Edward Snowden leaks proved James Clapper lied.
Wheeler then goes through a hilarious exegesis of Clapper’s various attempts to wriggle out of the trap his own words placed him in. Remember, 17 agencies did not confirm. James Clapper wrote a memo saying they did. That’s not the same!
Third, with respect to voting integrity, 17 is really 0. From the DNI statement:
Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government. The USIC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.
Fourth, Clinton’s claim that foreign “influence” (or “interference)” is unprecedented is false. Politico:
Foreign Governments Have Been Tampering With U.S. Elections for Decades
Examples given: Nixon in 1968 created an October surprise telling South Vietnam’s President Thieu, through Anna Chan Chennault, that he’d get a better deal from him than from Democrat candidate Humphrey. On November 4, Thieu said he wouldn’t participate in peace talks. Iran refused to release the hostages it held to Carter until moments after Reagan was inaugurated. Of course, I’m not saying any of these examples are good, but they do show Clinton’s claim is false.
Fifth, the concept of “influence” (or “interference”) is extremely hazy. By “influence” (or “interference”), do we mean overthrowing a democratically elected government, as in Honduras? Or by “interference” do we mean funding political parties and factions, as in Ukraine? Or do we mean calling for a particular outcome in a foreign country’s referendum? Clearly, there’s a spectrum of possibilities, and it’s not clear where Russia’s putative “influence” (or “interference”) falls on that spectrum, or how significant it really is.
Sixth, nobody with actual responsibility for governing is acting like Russian interference is significant. Has the United States determined that Russian “influence” (or “interference”) is a casus belli? No. Has the United States tightened sanctions against Russia? No. Has the United States withdrawn its ambassador from Russia? No. Has Secretary of State Kerrey issued a diplomatic protest? Not that I can find. How about a “démarche” to the United Nations Secretary General? Ditto. So, even if the United States “formally accused the Russian government,” the accusation doesn’t amount to much, does it? Oh my goodness! “Formally”! In the lead, yet.
Seventh, with respect to Wikipedia, telling the truth seems an odd form of influence to have problems with. Returning to Clinton’s original point of departure, not one of the Podesta emails has even been shown to be false. See Glenn Greenwald (who disposes of Kurt Eichenwald, so please don’t bring that up):
Top Democrats have repeatedly waved off substantial questions arising from their hacked emails by falsely implying that some of them are forgeries created by Russian hackers.
The problem with that is that no one has found a single case of anything forged among the information released from hacks of either Clinton campaign or Democratic Party officials.
The strategy dates all the way back to a conference call with Democratic lawmakers in August. Politico reported that a number of Democratic strategists suggested that Russian hackers — who have been blamed by U.S. intelligence agencies for supplying the emails to Wikileaks and other web sites — could sprinkle false data among the real information.
Since then, despite the complete lack of evidence to support such a claim, it’s become a common dodge among leading Democrats and the Clinton campaign when asked questions about the substance of the emails.
Frankly, I’ve been gobsmacked by the refusal of Democratic loyalists to process or even accept the Podesta emails; the press, though adding caveats that legal clearly insisted on, accepts them as true as shown by the stories they write; but Democrats go into full “LA LA LA I can’t hear you!!!” mode. Since I came up as a Democrat, the idea that Democrats are as susceptible to epistemic closure as Republicans was alien to me. No more. If espionage and the truth are one and the same, how do we function as a democracy? I could understand the furor if the emails were about the Manhattan Project, but they’re only about a corrupt and vicious in-group of sycophants and grifters buffing their candidate’s talking points and pimping them to the press. So who cares?
In conclusion, I want to remind you that this talking point was carefully engineered; the Clinton team took its best shot. As we have seen, the “17 agencies” best shot claim is not proven as stated, is an argument from authority where the authority is a proven liar, doesn’t apply to voting integrity (the other “Russkis” narrative currently in play), depends on a hazy notion of “influence” (or “interference”) and isn’t taken seriously by the United States government, as shown by its actions. Oh, and the Podesta emails are legit. Doesn’t that count? Once again the staggering incompetence of the Clinton campaign team stands revealed.
Talking Point: Trump is a Russian Puppet
Here again Clinton deploys the talking point in the third debate:
CLINTON: Well, that’s because he’d [Putin] rather have a puppet as president of the United States.
First, if business dealings with Russia make Trump a puppet, then there are Democrat puppets, too . Politico:
A prominent D.C. lobbying firm has hired outside counsel over revelations that it may have been improperly involved in lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians who also employed former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Although the Podesta Group was founded by Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, he has not been involved with the lobbying firm that bears his name for years. His brother, Tony Podesta, is currently chairman of the firm.
According to an Associated Press report, the controversy centers around Rick Gates, the Trump campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee and a Manafort ally who also did work for the pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. As part of his work for the Ukrainian political party, Gates connected the Podesta Group with the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a non-profit whose board originally contained Ukrainian members of parliament from the pro-Russian party./p>
Controversy surrounding Manafort’s ties to the pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians prompted his resignation on Friday, part of a larger campaign shakeup that included the hiring of a new campaign manager and campaign CEO. A New York Times story published last Sunday detailed how secret ledgers discovered in Kiev earmarked a total of $12.7 million in cash payments to be delivered to Manafort. The former Trump campaign chairman said he never received any such money.
Working on behalf of the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, the Podesta Group lobbied in Washington for positions favored by the pro-Russian political party, of which deposed former President Viktor Yanukovych was a member. The lobbying work ended in 2014 after Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia, where he remains in exile.
Gee, it’s like they all know each other, isn’t it? Oh, and isn’t “work” for a “Ukrainian political party” influencing (or interfering with) elections?
Second, if realpolitik makes Trump a puppet, then heaven help us all. Here’s how Trump responded in the debate:
[TRUMP:] Now we can talk about Putin. I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.
Assuming the validity of America’s imperial role for the sake of the argument, imagine that the world is tri-polar, with Russia, China, and the United States. Why then does it make sense to, as it were, fight a two-front war? Why not de-escalate with one, and focus on the other, possibly together? Of course, I’m not a foreign policy expert, unlike the national security class that got us into two losing wars and set a few trillion dollars on fire, but Trump’s logic is, at least, not insane. And it certainly doesn’t make him a Russian “puppet.”
Third, nobody with actual responsibility for governing is acting like Trump is a Russian puppet.. See the sixth point above, and then ask yourself how a “Russian puppet” was also receiving intelligence briefings as a Presidential candidate if anybody with actual responsibility took this point seriously. Here’s Obama on this point, post-election:
[OBAMA:] I think it is important for us to let him make his decisions. The American people will judge over the course of the next couple of years whether they like what they see. This office has a way of waking you up. Those aspects of his positions or his predispositions that don’t match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick because reality has a way of asserting itself.”
One can hope.
So, if Trump’s business dealings make him a Russian puppet, there are other Russian puppets in the Beltway, including the brother of Clinton’s campaign manager. Further, Trump’s policy toward Russia can’t be shown to make him a puppet; it’s realpolitik. Finally, nobody who would have to take action, were Trump a puppet, is taking Clinton’s campaign seriously.
Clinton loyalists should step away from the blame cannons and look in the mirror. Little chance of that happening soon!
 I’m not going to concern myself with what private national security consultants write; I assume they’re talking their book.