Friday, March 29, 2019

More Than Meets The Eye

Lost, inevitably, in the assessment of the Barr memorandum to the chairpersons and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees was further confirmation by Attorney General William Barr that the "Russian efforts" to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.

Lost, too- actually never recognized- was that Vladimir Putin has admitted to this campaign and that he had a role in it. Former FBI agent and current CNN contributor Josh Campbell reminds us 

President Trump tonight on Fox News: "Russia, if they were at all for me—by the way, if you look at all of the things, they were sort of for and against both, not just one way – but you look at all of the different things, Russia would much rather have Hillary than Donald Trump."

As Campbell has made clear many times, he finds this ludicrous, as does the USA intelligence community. So does Vladimir Putin. Asked at the news conference he had with President Trump in July 2018 at Helsinki whether he did "want President Trump to win the election," the Russian President conceded "yes, yes I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal."

Nearly every response, understandably, to this exchange was to note that Putin had admitted that he favored Trump. When I searched on Google for "putin at helsinki said he directed his officials to help Trumpwin the election," the responses consistently reflected that. In the Atlantic, it was "Putin said in Helsinki He wanted Trump to Win;" in Politico, "Putin: I wanted Trump to win the election;" in The Daily Beast, "Putin Admits He Wanted Trump to Win 2016 Election."

Fair enough. But the question was not merely about the Russian president's preference. Julia Davis has it all:

Vladimir Putin was asked not only "did you want President Trump to win the election?" He was asked also "and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?"

Putin could have ambiguously responded, "Yes I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal." Or he could have made it clear that he merely wanted Trump to win the election but did not direct any officials to help.

Instead, Putin responded "yes, I did," followed by "yes I did." This was a critical (two-part) question and the betting here is that Putin was responding to both parts: "yes, I did help him win the election" and "yes, I did direct officials to help him do that."

The intelligence community had concluded in January 2017 "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election."  Admittedly, it is critical to contrast that with the American president's dishonest claim that "Russia" probably wanted Clinton elected. 

(Note that he doesn't say "Putin" because it would have suggested that his buddy helped that bad woman, and it would have reinforced the notion that Putin had his hand in the election. Mama Trump didn't raise a dope.)

Remembering that Putin probably actually has acknowledged (June 2018) being the ringleader of a counter-intelligence campaign may be of limited value. It is not as important, for instance, as recognizing that when Attorney General Barr wrote "the Special Counsel recognized 'the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russia election interference," he is likely acknowledging evidence, albeit insufficient evidence.

But it is not nothing and reminds us that when we get to see a (much redacted) report from the Special Counsel, there may be more to it than the lawyers, journalists, and national security experts see. 

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