By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
In the midst of the hysteria about Russian interference in the 2016 election — 52% of Democrat voters believe it’s definitely or probably true that “Russia tampered with vote tallies”, a view for which there is no evidence whatever, and which is a depressing testimony to the power of propaganda to produce epistemic closure in liberals as well as conservatives — came Buzzfeed’s 35-page “dodgy dossier” on Donald Trump, oppo that the researcher, Christopher Steele, peddled during the election proper, but was unable to sell, not even to an easy mark like Jebbie. (There’s a useful debunking of Steele’s report in the New York Review of Books, of all places.) Remember the piss jokes? So two-weeks ago… Amazingly, or not, a two-page summary to Steele’s product had been included in a briefing given to Trump (and Obama). A weary Obama was no doubt well accustomed to the intelligence community’s little ways, but the briefing must have been quite a revelation to Trump. I mean, Trump is a man who knows shoddy when he sees it, right?
In any case, a link to the following story in Hamburg’s ridiculously sober-sided Die Zeit came over the transom: So schockiert von Trump wie alle anderen (“So shocked by Trump like everyone else”). The reporter is Alexej Kowaljow, a Russian journalist based in Moscow. Before anyone goes “ZOMG! The dude is Russian!”, everything Kowaljow writes is based on open sources or common-sense information presumably available to citizens of any nation. The bottom line for me is that if the world is coming to believe that Americans are idiots, it’s not necessarily because Americans elected Trump as President.
I’m going to lay out two claims and two questions from Kowaljow’s piece. In each case, I’ll quote the conventional, Steele and intelligence community-derived wisdom in our famously free press, and then I’ll quote Kowaljow. I think Kowaljow wins each time. Easily. I don’t think Google Translate handles irony well, but I sense that Kowaljow is deploying it freely.
(1) Trump’s Supposed Business Dealings in Russia Are Commercial Puffery
Here’s the section on Russia in Time’s article on Trump’s business dealings; it’s representative. I’m going to quote it all so you can savor it. Read it carefully.
Donald Trump’s Many, Many Business Dealings in 1 Map
“For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” Trump tweeted in July, one day before he called on the country to “find” a batch of emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Nonetheless, Russia’s extraordinary meddling in the 2016 U.S. election—a declassified report released by U.S. intelligence agencies in January disclosed that intercepted conversations captured senior Russian officials celebrating Trump’s win—as well as Trump’s complimentary remarks about Russian President have stirred widespread questions about the President-elect’s pursuit of closer ties with Moscow. Several members of Trump’s inner circle have business links to Russia, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who consulted for pro-Russia politicians in the Ukraine. Former foreign policy adviser Carter Page worked in Russia and maintains ties there. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, has been a regular guest on Russia’s English-language propaganda network, RT, and even dined with Putin at a banquet. During the presidential transition, former Georgia Congressman and Trump campaign surrogate Jack Kingston told a gathering of businessmen in Moscow that the President-elect could lift U.S. sanctions. According to his own son, Trump has long relied on Russian customers as a source of income. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. told a Manhattan real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of trade publication eTurboNews. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Back to map.
Read that again, if you can stand it. Do you see the name of an actual business, owned by Trump? Do you see the name of any businessperson who closed a deal with Trump? Do you, in fact, see any reporting at all? At most, you see commercial puffery by Trump the Younger: “Russians [in Russia?] make up a pretty [qualifier] disproportionate [whatever that means] cross-section [whatever that means] of a lot of [qualifier] our assets.”
Now Kowaljow (via Google Translate, so forgive any solecisms):
For Donald Trump, all attempts to gain a foothold in the USSR and then in Russia in 30 years of travel and negotiations failed. Moscow did not have a Trump Tower of its own, although Trump boasted every time that he had met the most important people and was just about to invest hundreds of millions in a project that would undoubtedly be successful.
Trumps’ largest business success in Russia was the presentation of a Trump Vodka at the Millionaire Fair 2007 in Moscow. This project was also a cleansing; In 2009 the sale of Trump Vodka was discontinued.
Because think about it: Trump puts his name on stuff. Towers in Manhattan, hotels, casinos, golf courses, steaks. Anything in Russia with Trump’s name on it? Besides the failed vodka venture? No? Case closed, then.
(2) Zhirinovsky Is The Very Last Person Putin Would Use For A Proxy
From The Hill’s summary of Russian “interference” in the 2016 election:
Five reasons intel community believes Russia interfered in election
The attacks dovetailed with other Russian disinformation campaigns
The report covers more than just the hacking effort. It also contains a detailed list account of information warfare against the United States from Russia through other means.
Political party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who the report lists as a “pro-Kremlin proxy,” said before the election that, if Trump won, Russia would ‘drink champagne’ to celebrate their new ability to advance in Syria and Ukraine.
The report of the American intelligence services on the Russian interference in the US elections, published at the beginning of January, was notoriously neglected by Russians, because the name of Vladimir Zhirinovsky was mentioned among the “propaganda activities of Russia”, which had announced that in the event of an election victory of Trump champagne to want to drink.
Such a delicate plan – to reach the election of a President of the US by means of Zhirinovsky – ensures a skeptical smile for every Russian at best. … He is already seventy and has been at the head of a party with a misleading name for nearly thirty years. The Liberal Democratic Party is neither liberal nor democratic. If their policies are somehow characterized, then as right-wing populism. Zhirinovsky is known for shrill statements; He threatened, for example, to destroy the US by means of “gravitational weapons”.
If, therefore, the Kremlin had indeed had the treacherous plan of helping Trump to power, it would scarcely have been made known about Zhirinovsky.
The American equivalent would be…. Give me a moment to think of an American politician who’s both so delusional and such a laughingstock that no American President could possibly consider using them as a proxy in a devilishly complex informational warfare campaign… Sara Palin? Anthony Weiner? Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Na ga happen.
And now to the two questions.
(3) Why Would Russian Intelligence Agencies Sources Have Talked to Steele?
But the report, published on the BuzzFeed Internet portal, is full of inconsistencies and contradictions. The problem is not even that there are a lot of false facts. Even the assumption that agents of the Russian secret services are discussing the details with a former secretary of a hostile secret service in the midst of a highly secret operation by which a future President of the US is to be discredited appears strange.
Exactly. For the intelligence community and Democrat reliance on Steele’s dossier to be plausible, you have to assume 10-foot tall Russkis (1) with incredibly sophisticated strategic, operational, and technical capabilities, who have (2) performed the greatest intelligence feat of the 21st and 20th centuries, suborning the President of the United States, and whose intelligence agencies are (3) leakly like a sieve. Does that make sense? (Of course, the devilish Russkis could have fed Steele bad data, knowing he’d then feed it to the American intelligence agencies, who would lap it up, but that’s another narrative.)
(4) How Do You Compromise the Uncompromisable?
Funny how suddenly the word kompromat was everywhere, wasn’t it? So sophisticated. Everybody loves to learn a new word! Regarding the “Golden Showers” — more sophistication! — Kowaljow writes:
But even if such a compromise should exist, what sense should it have, since the most piquant details have long been publicly discussed in public, and had no effect on the votes of the elected president? Like all the other scandals trumps, which passed through the election campaign, they also remained unresolved, including those who were concerned about sex.
This also includes what is known as a compromise, compromising material, that is, video shots of the unsightly nature, which can destroy both the political career and the life of a person. The word Kompromat shines today – as in the past Perestroika – in all headlines; It was not invented in Russia, of course. But in Russia in the Yeltsin era, when the great clans in the power gave bitter fights and intensively used the media, works of this kind have ended more than just a brilliant career. General Prosecutor Jurij Skuratov was dismissed after a video had been shown in the country-wide television channels: There, a person “who looks like the prosecutor’s office” had sex with two prostitutes.
Donald Trump went on Howard Stern for, like, decades. The stuff that’s right out there for whoever wants to roll those tapes is just as “compromising” as anything in the dodgy dossier, or the “grab her by the pussy” tape, for that matter. As Kowaljow points out, none of it was mortally wounding to Trump; after all, if you’re a volatility voter who wants to kick over the table in a rigged game, you don’t care about the niceties.
It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if our famously free press was actually covering the Trump transition, instead of acting like their newsrooms are mountain redoubts for an irrendentist Clinton campaign. It would be nice, for example, to know:
1) The content and impact of Trump’s Executive Orders.
2) Ditto, regulations.
3) Personnel decisions below the Cabinet level. Who are the Flexians?
4) Obama policies that will remain in place, because both party establishments support them. Charters, for example.
5) Republican inroads in Silicon Valley.
6) The future of the IRS, since Republicans have an axe to grind with it.
7) Mismatch between State expectations for infrastructure and Trump’s implementation
And that’s before we get to ObamaCare, financial regulation, gutting or owning the CIA (which Trump needs to do, and fast), trade policy, NATO, China, and a myriad of other stories, all rich with human interest, powerful narratives, and plenty of potential for scandal. Any one of them worthy of A1 coverage, just like the Inaugural crowd size dogpile that’s been going on for days.
Instead, the press seems to be reproducing the last gasps of the Clinton campaign, which were all about the evils of Trump, the man. That tactic failed the Clinton campaign, again because volatility voters weren’t concerned with the niceties. And the same tactic is failing the press now. Failing unless, of course, you’re the sort of sleaze merchant who downsizes the newsroom because, hey, it’s all about the clicks.