Circus of Liars: How Trump & GOP are Twisted into Pretzels over Putin Hack

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald J. Trump has picked another fight with the elders of his own Republican Party, over whether Russia engaged in hacking aimed at influencing the US election. Trump has maintained that it is impossible to trace hacking attempts, that it isn’t clear who was behind them, and that he knows a lot about hacking and knows things about these incidents that the rest of us do not know, which he would reveal last Tuesday or Wednesday (he didn’t).

At one point, in Trump’s assault on the case for Russian hacking being presented by the CIA, he cited statements of Julian Assange of Wikileaks:

This reference to Assange, who published Chelsea Manning’s copied State Department cables and who published emails of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, infuriated official Washington, who would love to render Assange from the Ecuadoran embassy in London and execute him by firing squad.

At today’s Senate hearings on the Russian hacking, Sen. John McCain asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper whether Assange has any credibility. Clapper replied by smearing Assange with reference to the complicated and obscure Swedish sex charges against him, which actually do not speak to Assange’s credibility on whether the Russians passed him hacked emails. This ad hominem logical fallacy is typical of the sneaky and duplicitous way Clapper operates.

McCain also accused Assange of putting the lives of US intelligence professionals and their assets in danger. But McCain did not move to impeach former Bush vice president Dick Cheney, who outed CIA field officer Valerie Plame to punish her for her husband’s having revealed the emptiness of the WMD case for the Bush-Cheney illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Trump was wounded by the charges that he was supporting Assange, and replied, essentially, that retweets are not endorsements.

All twitter users consider such hedging to be disingenuous; why retweet something if you deeply disagree with it?

The entire circus was marked by outlandish self-contradiction and clownish hypocrisy.

For instance, Sen. McCain and other national security Republicans have a longstanding animus against the Putin government and so are eager to accept the Clapper case that Russia attempted to interfere in the US election.

But McCain and the other hawkish Republicans don’t want to follow their position to its logical conclusion, which is that Putin intervened to give us a Trump presidency.

If Russia did some hacking and leaking to hurt the Democrats, but did not succeed in having a big impact on the election outcome, then why is the issue so important? The Russians were ineffectual.

As for foreign hacking and spying on the US election, James Clapper for a long time was personally listening into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private cell phone.

Moreover, Clapper was listening in to millions Americans on American soil without a warrant, a gross violation of the fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which promises us privacy from government prying with regard to our mail and personal effects unless law enforcement can convince a judge that we are engaged in a specified crime. For all we know, US officials privy to this illegal form of wiretapping could have used the information for insider trading or self-aggrandizement or to smear politicians they didn’t like or even to affect the outcome of elections. There isn’t really any oversight over this unconstitutional activity of the Federal government, and even sitting senators who knew about it such as Ron Wyden were afraid to tell the public lest they be arrested for revealing classified information (almost everything in Washington is classified as soon as it is written down).

When Clapper was asked in Senate testimony whether US intelligence was spying on the American people, he denied it. “No,” he said.

Ron Wyden: “DNI Clapper tells Wyden the NSA does not collect data on millions of Americans”

It was the lie of our new century, the Big Lie, the ultimate Whopper.

The US NSA hacked the whole world for many years until Ed Snowden blew the whistle on them. And that was when the full extent of Clapper’s mendaciousness became clear. He should have been held in contempt of Congress. He should have been fired. But no. He got away with it.

It is extremely unclear why anyone should believe anything this proven and professional liar says.

Then Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, was asked about Trump’s tweet questioning the Russia hacking narrative. He replied that Trump was unwise to take on the intelligence community, since they had six ways to Sunday to get back at you.

So Schumer seems to have been celebrating that we are no longer a democracy, but that even an elected president has to defer to the intelligence establishment in Washington or else must fear that they will play dirty tricks on him and undermine him.

Shouldn’t the Democratic Party senate minority leader be standing for democratic values, not advising the president to shut up if he knows what’s good for him?

So to conclude, this is a sorry spectacle. Yes, Putin is a thug who should not have unilaterally annexed Crimea, and so created a European crisis that has yet to be resolved. But yes, the US has acted thuggishly– the unprovoked and monstrous invasion of Iraq is a recent example– and US aggressiveness toward Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union bears some of the blame for Russia’s bullying insecurity. And yes, Russia likely engaged in hacking during the US election and hoped to tilt the playing field toward Trump; but they likely failed to have any significant effect on the outcome. And yes, Clapper and other US intelligence officials have hacked everybody and his brother both abroad and inside the US, so they are hardly morally superior to Putin.

Now we have a food fight full of ignorance and hypocrisy or both, in which the Washington Establishment professes itself shocked, shocked that any hacking of one country by another could have gone on. Trump has continued his creepy bromance with the Kremlin and wants to get his information from any source that agrees with his prejudices. The Democrats have taken advantage of the story to paint Trump as a Manchurian candidate, and some of them seem to delight in the idea that Trump may provoke the CIA to do to him what Oliver Stone thinks it did to JFK.

Nobody and nothing here to admire.

42 Responses

  1. “The US NSA hacked the whole world for many years until Ed Snowden blew the whistle on them. And that was when the full extent of Clapper’s mendaciousness became clear. He should have been held in contempt of Congress. He should have been fired. But no. He got away with it.”

    He got away with it because Obama decided to continue supporting him.

  2. Fascinating post professor and rather scary one at that. As many of us believe, elected governments are there by courtesy of dark forces behind the facade of democracy. Had Clinton won we would not be hearing much about the fantasy Russian hacks and how they influenced the out come of the election. As far as the “insiders” were concerned, Trump was just a joke figure who was there to play the role of an alternative candidate to give democracy an air of legitimacy. It was never intended or even imagined he would actually win!! After all, he wasn’t part of the ‘Washington insider set.’ Indeed, he had no political acumen whatsoever. It is obvious that there is incandescent outrage that Trump is in fact going to be the next president and so far, he is exhibiting a clear principal of independent thought and intention. If Trump was fully in accord with the covert institutions of government, we would not be hearing any of this ludicrous stuff about Putin personally ordering hacks etc. This debacle is beginning to show that democracy isn’t all its cracked up to be and other quasi or non democratic regimes must be laughing their heads off. Democracy is fine as long as it provides the expected and required result and it was never intended to actually produce a Trump or a Brexit. I fear for Trump’s safety and he really does need to watch his back.

    • There was not much good to be said for the Weimer Republic. It was ineffectual and corrupt. But the Third Reich was not an improvement.

      “Independent thought and intention” are by no means by definition positive. No matter how bad the status quo, it can get worse. My guess is Trump has no problem with covert institutions. He just wants them to be HIS covert institutions.

    • Hope you don’t mind that I turned this into a fb share. Gave your name, sourced this blog. Prefaced it saying I was still root’n for democracy. Ended it saying…

      Re Trump’s ‘clear principal of independent thought and intention’…yes, a few of his intentions are perhaps a quarter of the time “clear”…but IMO they are NOT well thought out.

      • And I changed the ending to: a few of his intentions are “clear”…but the rest are perhaps a quarter of the time clear while IMO NOT well thought out.

        Or somesuch. Thanks.

  3. Trump didn’t start this. Indeed he attempted to arrest it with his appeal to get on with more important matters. Every nation hacks as though the choice lies between hacking and being hacked, and the Russians may have a particular aptitude for it; apparently because many young Russians trained in computer skills suddenly found themselves jobless with the fall of the USSR.

    ”A lot of these people had access to computers, and they knew how to explore the possibilities,” says Alexei Kruchenok, a software developer in Belarus. “If you didn’t have economic opportunities, you looked at the gray Internet market for money.”

    link to themoscowtimes.com

    This (well worth a read) implies that rich evidence of Russian hacking over an extended period must abound and probably somewhat encourages a claim that interference in US elections could well have happened, but certainly doesn’t prove it did or was even likely.

    It seems to me perfectly reasonable to quote Assange since, whatever one’s views of the man, he must surely be regarded as having a high degree of specialty in this esoteric field.

    • lol..of course trump wants it to go away….maybe BECAUSE IT IS TRUE?

      and would you be commenting the same way..if the accusation favored clinton?

      either you care about honest elections or you dont.

      • Baloney. Traitor Trump , liar and thief in chief and his henchmen colluded with Russia on this matter. Carter Page, Paul Mannafort, and Mike Flynn visited Russia. Carter Page met with top Russian officials on his visit. The nomination of Tellerson for S of S further demonstrates Traitor Trump’s love affair with Putin. Why didn’t Trump release his tax returns so that we could see how much money he invested in Russia and the loans that have been made to him. This is not a new story. This has been going on during the entire election cycle.

        • Additionally the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia admitted that they had been in communication with the Trump campaign during the election. There is a lot of false equivalency going on around this issue. It is one thing to intercept messages; it is another to try and get one candidate elected over another by overt and covert acts.

    • I understand your point. However, everybody gets robbed, but when they rob my house, I’m going call the cops, report the crime, and put newer, better locks on the door.

  4. Assange’s statement was carefully worded to say that the Russians were not his source. Of course they were not his immediate source; they are not that stupid. But I believe the unanimous intelligence statement that Russians hacked the US election and passed on information through intermediaries and “cut- outs”. Prof Cole is also correct that the significance in this election was minimal because of Hillary’s ineptness and tone-deafness as a candidate. by and large, the intelligence gathering arm of US intelligence does a good job, despite the Iraq WMD fiasco. It is at the political appointee level that their credibility and reliability breaks down; just as in every other government agency. McCain is just continuing to be his usual ideological, uninformed, nasty self.

  5. If anything, ‘Wibberly’, Assange has shown himself to be duplicitous in his dealings with the public in what he presents and what he holds back. He has become in thrall to known prevaricators and political provocateurs for his ‘information’. And this was in evidence long before this election. It only came to further bright light during the campaigns and has been exposed by some of the people he has worked most closely with. And as you say, no, Trump didn’t start this, but as in everything else he touches, he is ruinous and displays only contempt for the truth and disdain for actual people and any other ideas or opinions but his own warped crackpottery. His Lootocracy will bring down this country like Yeltsin’s crony billionaires’ oligopoly brought down Russia, stripping its resources and greatly impoverishing its people. People like you make weak excuses for and personally enable the meanness and corrupt proto-facism we now have on our plate ‘big time’. You are a ‘good German’, IMO.

  6. If Trump’s taxes ever get released the huuuuuge financial relationship with Russia will become obvious.

  7. I tend to quote, retweet and link out of interest in and support for people, not to support their ideas, most of which I disagree with anyway. So I would never dream of quoting someone like Assange. Trump is more problematic for me, because I have the stupid idea that he might respond to a form of operant conditioning that reinforces his good ideas and behavior, a project that is probably harder than teaching a chicken to play the piano. He does have one good idea about the hacking issue. Get off the web. In particular, anyone who has worked in government and politics, a corporate environment, or in education should know that putting something in writing is the worst possible way to communicate. Podesta and the Clintons remind me of the old saw: “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?”

    • “He does have one good idea about the hacking issue. Get off the web.”

      Maybe he should take his own advice then?

  8. Excellent post and the stuff most Americans ever get to read. Pity! My one objection is to your terming Vladimir Putin a thug. Why is he a thug? Because he is too powerful? Was a member of the Secret Service? So was Bush Senior, so is Clapper and lots of others. Because he may have ordered people killed? US presidents do that all the time: ask anyone from a Third World country. Bush Junior killed over half a million people with his unprovoked attack on Iraq. Or is the term thug simply a way to blackball a foreign leader, to avoid dealing with him rationally, to deprecate actions that he sees to be in his country’s vital interests whether we agree with them or not. It seems to be just another display, probably unconscious, of that American disease, so threatening to many and deadly to others: American Exceptionalism.

      • USA has invaded many more countries in the last 50 years than anyone else. USA has killed Al Jazeera journalists. Is polonium worse than killing by dropping a bomb? Killing is Killing.

        • Two wrongs don’t make a right. However, the US has not in fact unilaterally annexed territory in the way that Putin has.

    • You should become more familiar with the workings and history of the KGB. Putin rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the organization in his 17 years there before leaving and entering government. You got ahead in the KGB by following orders and being ruthless.

  9. This news item of Russia hacked US computers and interfered in our election is in the news 24/7 for the last more than a month. It is still not showing any sign of abating.

    It is not first time US computers were hacked. Here is video link when a Jewish 18 year old hacked Pentagon computer from Tel Aviv & Netanyahu is praising. Same people like Graham, McCain & others had their mouths shut & so was the news media was not making it a big deal for months on. Watch the Utube:

    link to youtube.com

    From AP archives:
    An Israeli master hacker accused of having launched the most organised attack ever on the Pentagon’s computer system has earned praise from an unlikely source.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “damn good” when asked what he thought of the hacker, who has been put under house arrest and had his computer taken away.

    However, Netanyahu was quick to add that 18-year-old Ehud Tenebaum has been playing a dangerous game.

    The suspect, who calls himself the Analyser, was identified by U-S Justice Department officials as 18-year-old Ehud Tenebaum.

    He was questioned at this police station by a special police anti-hacker unit.

    A police spokesman said the suspect was questioned for several hours at the station in Bat Yam, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv, then put under house arrest.

    US took no action. This time sanctions on Russia & God know what else.

    • If you can’t see the difference between one kid in a basement and a concerted, state-sponsored, multi-pronged campaign, than you clearly misplaced your critical thinking skills.

  10. The US NSA hacked the whole world for many years until Ed Snowden blew the whistle on them. And that was when the full extent of Clapper’s mendaciousness became clear. He should have been held in contempt of Congress. He should have been fired. But no. He got away with it.

    Despite this evidence of Clapper’s dishonesty members on both sides of the cesspool at yesterday’s senate armed services committee charade were content to take Clapper’s word when he said what they wanted to hear.

  11. “but they likely failed to have any significant effect on the outcome. ”
    I must take issue with this statement, Juan. Remember, Trump won by 80k votes in three swing states, so if 40k people there voted the other way, Clinton is the PEOTUS. That is the drop in the electoral bucket. What was the combined impact of: the embarrassing leak of the DNC chair, DWS, on the eve of the Dem. convention; the steady drip of slightly embarrassing (but never horrible) internal emails from the Clinton campaign the whole fall — that Trump repeatedly referred to on the campaign trail; and the leak that Clinton was fed CNN questions before a primary debate. All of these things fed the Trump narrative of corruption, a fixed system, decay and dishonesty. Did they change 40k votes in three states? I suspect it changed vastly more than that, as well as helped deliver more Trump voters to the polls.

    In short, the Russian action would not have made a difference in a 55-45 election. But in an election where Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, and squeaked by in several swing states by the narrowest of margins, I suspect that Putin got Trump elected. That would certainly constitute a “significant effect.”

    In an election this close, one can point to any number of things that likely swung the election to Trump, including the actions of the FBI Director and Clinton’s own mistakes. But one of those things almost certainly was Russia’s hacking.

    • Indeed.

      The “failed to have any significant effect on the outcome” line is bureaucratic ass-covering pure and simple.

  12. Ah, now we know. An anonymous Russian source claims unidentified high-ranking Russian officials passed DNC data to unidentified intermediaries who passed it to Wikileaks. Eh bien voila!, It wasn’t the butler after all!

  13. I, too, am surprised that Dr. Cole is so adamant that the hacking had no effect. There were hundreds of lies that hit social media just before the election that were echoed by websites set up a few weeks before. These echoing websites caused the search results to spike, so that anybody googling them got 3 pages of links to them, before seeing any rebuttal, from Snopes, for example. This was a sophisticated SEO operation that could well have swayed late deciders in the swing states.

    • Name one leaked email that got headline treatment or seems to have affected polls.

      In contrast, Hillary’s ‘deplorables’ speech sent her numbers right down.

      • It wasn’t just the hacked emails. We know now that there were a whole lot of Russian trolls working websites and social media feeding false stories. I personally have seen some suspicious posts and when I went to the Facebook page it was obviously just a cover for someone. During the last week of the campaign there were more shares of fake news than real news according to a Buzzfeed analysis.

      • It seems to me, for somebody with such an outstanding social media presence, you have an oddly myopic perception of how Americans consume news these days.

        Pew research found that almost 50% of US adults get their news from Facebook. With a steady drip of Clinton counter-programming this is the platform of choice for disinformation.

        The effect would have been cumulative i.e. you wouldn’t see a one time dip as with a prominent news item like the deplorable speech, but rather a steady suppression of Hillary’s favorability ratings.

        link to niemanlab.org

      • In art, you learn about “negative vs positive space.”
        The areas that you don’t pay attention to, the empty spaces between figures or objects, are just as essential to the piece as the obvious and visible areas.

        I.e., that which is not seen is just as important as that which is.

        So we may never know what damaging information the Russians had on Trump which might have had a major impact on the election if it had been revealed.

        That’s the more serious aspect of this, at least, for me…

    • But we forget that the percentage of voters who spend their time googling such things in the days before an election is actually quite small. Most people just aren’t that obsessed. Republicans hated Clinton more than Democrats hated Trump, so their turnout was up and ours was down. The results weren’t evenly distributed among the states. That’s why we lost.

  14. The Russians are masters of espionage. They have honed their proficiency at manipulating mass public opinion over the centuries. Our bizarre electoral system allowed Trump to claim victory by a margin of .007 of the votes cast in three states. Even minuscule success in tilting the election to the Russian favored candidate would have a “significant effect.” Let’s give the Russians the credit the deserve.

  15. The only thing that concerns me is that trump will be too stupid to see that Putin’s weakening of NATO alliances and the EU, runs the risk of unstable Europe reigniting old conflicts. Europeans still don’t like each other much, but have managed to get along for 60 years. I also fear for the Baltic states.

  16. for another view
    link to atimes.com by
    I quote M.K. BHADRAKUMARs last paragraph
    “At the end of the day, therefore, to a foreign observer, all this looks most curious. America’s political class is fighting among themselves with tooth and claw over an issue that is commonplace in the contemporary world, and in that process, their country, the ‘lone superpower’, becomes the laughing stock of the world community.é

  17. Reading the commentary and all the comments here, I think your consensus is: #1, that the public exposure of the Podesta (Clinton, DNC) e-mails did sway the election “to Trump,” specifically away from Clinton; and #2, that this was a bad thing, a cause for anger, and that the perpetrators of these leaks should suffer retribution from the USG. On point #1: there has been no doubt cast on the veracity of the leaked e-mails, therefore if a portion of the public was swayed to vote “away from Clinton” because of them then they were swayed by truthful information that had previously been hidden from them: “transparency.” (I favor transparency, and believe it serves the public interest). On point #2: If voters being swayed by the exposure of truthful information of public interest is “a bad thing,” then those who believe this prefer voters being fooled and “guided” by powerful insiders (Orwell called them the Inner Party). Those angry that insider (mainly DNC) plans went awry are angry at the workings of democracy with better informed voters. Why not be angry at the betrayal of fair-play and democratic principles that thwarted the Sanders campaign (the most popular option nationally)? Why not be angry that such a monumental betrayal of public trust was done for the benefit of extremely corrupt and deceitful insiders (H. Clinton and associates)? The effort to pin blame on “the Russians” for spoiling the insider’s succession gambit is just a poor and cowardly excuse to deflect attention from their colossal failures to devise an economy that serves the public (the major grievance of Trump voters, also Sanders voters), and to maintain (not corrupt) the institutions and mechanisms of democracy (the popular will having an influence through voting, the major grievance of Bernie, 3rd party and anybody-but-Clinton voters). If killing the messenger (Assange, “the Russians,” mystery hackers, or whoever you want to hate most) is your reaction for being shown the truth, then you are condemned to be the victim of your own folly for a long time. Trump was elected because the public consensus is that voting now has no influence on public policy — so real people can’t get what they need and want from it — but it still can sometimes be used to throw a Molotov-cocktail-by-ballots into the cozy connivances of the Inner Party. Who is responsible for letting it get to this point? The Russians?

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