I took the occasion of the testimony in the Sussman trial last week to weigh “Watergate in the balance.” John reviewed what we already knew in “Hillary did it.” On Saturday, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal — I think this is Kim Strassel’s beat as a member of the board — plays it straight in the editorial “Hillary Clinton did it.”
The Journal editorial lays out the template of the Russia hoax, minus the active participation of the FBI in pursuing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, promoting the Steele Dossier in the FISA court and the Comey briefing of Trump as well as the conditions that led to the crippling Mueller investigation. We should probably add the setup of Michael Flynn, the incredibly fruitful “collusion” of the FBI and congressional Democrats with the prestige press, and a few other items, but here are the basics of the Russia hoax in its Alfa Bank iteration:
The Russia-Trump collusion narrative of 2016 and beyond was a dirty trick for the ages, and now we know it came from the top—candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. That was the testimony Friday by 2016 Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook in federal court, and while this news is hardly a surprise, it’s still bracing to find her fingerprints on the political weapon.
Mr. Mook testified as a witness in special counsel John Durham’s trial of Michael Sussmann, the lawyer accused of lying to the FBI. In September 2016, Mr. Sussmann took claims of a secret Trump connection to Russia’s Alfa Bank to the FBI and said he wasn’t acting on behalf of any client. Prosecutors say he was working for the Clinton campaign.
Prosecutors presented evidence this week that Mr. Sussmann worked with cyber-researchers and opposition-research firm Fusion GPS to produce the claims on behalf of the Clinton campaign, and to feed them to the FBI. An FBI agent testified that a bureau analysis quickly rejected the claims as implausible. (Mr. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty.)
Prosecutors asked Mr. Mook about his role in funneling the Alfa Bank claims to the press. Mr. Mook admitted the campaign lacked expertise to vet the data, yet the decision was made by Mr. Mook, policy adviser Jake Sullivan (now President Biden’s national security adviser), communications director Jennifer Palmieri and campaign chairman John Podesta to give the Alfa Bank claims to a reporter. Mr. Mook said Mrs. Clinton was asked about the plan and approved it. A story on the Trump-Alfa Bank allegations then appeared in Slate, a left-leaning online publication.
On Oct. 31, 2016, Mr. Sullivan issued a statement mentioning the Slate story, writing, “This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow.” Mrs. Clinton tweeted Mr. Sullivan’s statement with the comment: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” “Apparently” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
In short, the Clinton campaign created the Trump-Alfa allegation, fed it to a credulous press that failed to confirm the allegations but ran with them anyway, then promoted the story as if it was legitimate news. The campaign also delivered the claims to the FBI, giving journalists another excuse to portray the accusations as serious and perhaps true.
Most of the press will ignore this news, but the Russia-Trump narrative that Mrs. Clinton sanctioned did enormous harm to the country. It disgraced the FBI, humiliated the press, and sent the country on a three-year investigation to nowhere. Vladimir Putin never came close to doing as much disinformation damage.
I would like to enlarge the context for assessing what we have learned to date. Putin “never came close to doing as much disinformation damage” and, I would add, Nixon never came close to doing as much harm to the objects of his criminal misconduct. However, Hillary Clinton will never face the consequences. That much I can tell you.
The Journal editorial observes that “most of the press will ignore the news” introduced at trial last week. Why might that be? Well, of course, the New York Times and Washington Post brought home the Pulitzer Prizes for their hard work promoting the hoax (“For a distinguished example of reporting on national affairs, using any available journalistic tool”). The Pulitzer board specified the nature of the work for which it awarded the 2018 prize for national reporting to the staffs of the two papers:
For deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration. (The New York Times entry, submitted in this category, was moved into contention by the Board and then jointly awarded the Prize.)
“Relentless” is right, if not exactly as stated. You can see why papers might not want to look back in much detail and reassess their performance. They disgraced themselves. They might have to acknowledge that, all in all, they badly misled the country they purported to inform, fomented hysteria like Salemites of old, and themselves have much for which to apologize. Of course, that will never happen either.