The smoking gun

The consensus (except at Fox News and the White House) is that the Adam Schiff memo just released utterly destroys the Nunes Memo, which the Trumpites have been trumpeting for two weeks as proving that the FBI is corrupt. That’s certainly the way it reads to me: every single charge made by Nunes (based, please note, on documents he hadn’t seen) is clearly refuted. No, the Steele Dossier was not essential to obtaining the FISA warrant against Carter Page; the FBI was already on him. No, the source of that memo was not concealed from the FISA court; judges can read footnotes, and the DNC wasn’t specifically named because that would have been an unjustified bit of “unmasking” domestic players caught in intelligence dramas.  No, those warrants (the original and  three extensions) weren’t approved by some rogue Democratic judge, but by two GWB appointees, one GHWB appointee, and one Reagan appointee. And so on and so forth.

To my eyes, there’s a much bigger fact in the Schiff memo. It was already in the record, but I hadn’t noticed it before, and I can find only one published reference to it – from Joe Uchill at The Hill – and no published source draws what seems to me the two strong inferences: that the DNC/DCCC/Podesta hacks were carried out by or for Russian intelligence, and that the Trump campaign very likely knew that and helped cover it up.

The key background fact is that, whatever the Troll Farm was or wasn’t doing, and whether it was or wasn’t doing it in direct collusion with the Trump campaign, whoever stole three caches of Democratic emails – from the DNC, the DCCC, and John Podesta – and sent them off to WikiLeaks for posting made a decisive difference in the outcome of the election; Trump mentioned “WikiLeaks” 141 times in the last month of the campaign alone.

According to the new memo (matching facts already on the record) the FBI first became aware that Russians were messing with the election through the antics of George Papadopoulos, one of the Trump campaign’s initial team of five foreign-policy advisers. Papadopoulos (it has been reported elsewhere)  drunkenly boasted to an Australian diplomat in April of 2016 about his conversations with a skeezy London-based Maltese quasi-academic named Josef Mifsud, and the Australian passed the word along to the U.S.(That’s one reason the FBI didn’t need the Steel Dossier to get started looking into Russian election meddling; another was that the Bureau already had its eyes on Carter Page, another Trump foreign policy adviser, as a Russian asset.)

The Schiff memo points to the Statement of Offense filed by Mueller’s office when Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He had told the Bureau that, at the time he first spoke with Mifsud (in March), he had no connection to the Trump campaign. But that turns out to be false.

Defendant PAPADOPOULOS claimed that his interactions with an
overseas professor, who defendant PAPADOPOULOS understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials, occurred before defendant PAPADOPOULOS became a foreign policy adviser to the Campaign. … In truth and in fact, however, defendant PAPADOPOULOS learned he would be an advisor to the Campaign in early March, and met the professor on or about March 14, 2016; the professor only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign.

But the real kicker is in that ellipsis:

Defendant PAPADOPOULOS acknowledged that the professor had told him about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” (Emphasis added.)

The drunken boast was in April. The obscure “DCLeaks” website didn’t publish the products of the DNC hack until June, and WikiLeaks didn’t publish them until July. (The Podesta material came out even later, timed to step on the “grab ’em by the pussy” story.) If Mifsud wasn’t telling Papadopoulos the truth, or Papadopoulos wasn’t reporting accurately what Mifsud had told him, how could Papadopoulos have known in April about “thousands of emails” damaging to Clinton that weren’t published (19,000 of them) until three months later?

And unless Papadopoulos kept silent to the Trump campaign people he was trying to impress about the stuff he was blabbing to random diplomats, then the Trump people also must have known, when that stuff starting showing up on WikiLeaks, that it was the product of a Russian intelligence exploit. So when the Trump campaign spent the fall scoffing at the idea that Russia was involved in the WikiLeaks material – when Trump himself in September suggested that the hacker might have been “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” – they were knowingly helping to cover up a crime. (In the technical parlance of the federal criminal law, that’s called a “no-no.”)

Even in the unlikely event that Trump & Co. didn’t actually know what Papadopoulos knew, his agreement to the Statement of Offense pretty much clinches the answer to the question “Who did the hacks?” So let’s stop talking about whether the Troll Farm could have swung the election.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

10 thoughts on “The smoking gun”

  1. I am uncertain how to frame what the Russians did with our elections in 2016. Did they subvert our democracy? Or did they exploit a design flaw in our democracy?

    Their meddling on social media, their bots, their masquerading as American patriots, all of these things depend for their efficacy on one indispensible factor: the American voter, who must be depended upon to exercise critical thinking, an ability to assess the plausibility of apparently outrageous "facts" about a political opponent, and to be willing to consult multiple sources of news and information before committing to a candidate.

    Roger Sherman in 1787 was skeptical about the capacity of the people to make democracy work. They do not lack virtue, but they lack information and are easily misled, thought he. All government derives its authority from the people, but making decisions on governance requires that the will of the people go through some process of successive filtrations in order to be effective.

    We are outraged at the ways that a hostile foreign power worked to influence the outcome of a presidential election, and we might have the company of most of the framers of the Constitution. But if we are shocked, we cannot expect them to join us. An electorate which is not offended by abysmal ignorance in a candidate for the highest office in the land is not the fault of any foreign power. Vulnerability to hostile action from abroad is built into the design of the machine itself.

    1. They also attacked the mechanisms of our electoral process, to an as yet unknown degree:… Recall that Trump actually won the electoral college by a very slim margin; a matter of a few thousand votes in key districts flipped entire states. What WE don't know is how many of those 'very small number' of successfully penetrated voter systems were in those same states. Alter the voter rolls in sufficient precincts to suppress likely Democratic voters on top of the voter supressions tactics already put in place by GOP legislatures could well have made the difference.

      Of course it wouldn't have nearly been so effective without the outright malpractice of modern journalism, giving Trump a pass and hammering on "Her Emails" to the point where most Americans now believe that Russians hacked Hillary Clinton's private email server.

    2. Some of the flaws are of design: these include the anti-democratic safeguards of the Senate and Electoral College. Others are of execution. Other democracies secure higher participation, by making registration the responsibility of local government, voting on Sunday, etc. They also depoliticise the drawing of constituency boundaries. It's all so amateurish. The USA is like an air traffic controller who insists on going by the best pocket watch money could buy in 1787.

  2. All Clinton had to do was follow the security and/or retention rules for email and despite her many flaws she would be president. Is that too much to expect?

    1. Yes it is. This was a very minor mistake. Clinton was held to an unreal standard of perfection, Trump enjoyed the tolerance given to a street clown.

  3. "Skeezy" is the perfect adjective for Donald Trump, his family, and his Administration. Is there a nominative form, by analogy with sleazy/sleaze? "Skeeze" would work fine.

    The FSB is the beneficiary of the long excellence of Russian maths education. It's not a subject that tyrants can subvert, so it was ideal for internal mental emigration. The Okhrana, for instance, had very good ciphers. The early Bolsheviks didn't trust this legacy, but they learned.

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