News broke yesterday that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Campaign underwrote Christopher Steele’s opposition research project that led to the notorious “dossier” that alleged Donald Trump was compromised by Russian intel efforts. This document has become a big part of the ongoing narrative surrounding charges that the Trump campaign has colluded with Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 General Election, suggesting some quid pro quo between interference and favorable treatment by a now elected President Trump.
Predictably, pro-Trump media outlets — namely Fox News’ most watched opinion-tainment programs — have used this news to claim a political victory. This morning Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt asked a guest for his “reaction about the Russian reversal,” before declaring that “Hillary Clinton’s campaign teamed up with the DNC to help pay for the dossier on President Trump.” The suggestion here is that there is proof of campaign collusion with Russia, but that it was conducted by the Clinton campaign.
But the truth is that the only evidence of wrongdoing here is that the DNC and Clinton lied about funding this opposition research over the past year. And while that certainly raises eyebrows — and reinforces an already negative image of the Clintons — it in no way proves there was collusion between Hillary’s campaign and Russia.
What we are watching unfold is a fascinating battle of media narratives, which future historians may very likely consider to be the political story of our generation, one with enormous implications on both policy, politics and the ephemeral nature of meaning itself.
On one side we see those who have (prematurely) arrived at a conclusion that the Trump Campaign colluded with Russian intelligence to win the election, and now see every bit of news as evidence — without acknowledging their own confirmation bias. On the other side you see those who repeatedly proclaim that there is no evidence of Trump’s dealings with Russia, ignoring the large amount of circumstantial evidence.
But here is a quick refresher on what has been reported about “The Dossier” and that which has been almost entirely confirmed.
The opposition research project was started by a political research company called FusionGPS which was initially backed by a GOP financier in support of an, as yet, unnamed Republican primary candidate, who lost his or her nomination bid to Donald Trump. According to last night’s report in the Washington Post, the DNC then took over the financing of the opposition research project, with money from the Clinton campaign as well. It was at this juncture that FusionGPS outsourced the research to former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
The dossier was not made public during the campaign, in large part because much of it was not vetted and could not be proven true. But in the last month of the general election, online rumors began to surface of the most salacious (and unconfirmed) details in the dossier, as the contents of the report had been reportedly passed around the halls of Congress. It wasn’t until then that Senator John McCain saw the report and handed it over to the FBI. So DNC operatives didn’t officially take the dossier public, but effectively got the information out there in a more effective (and insidious manner.)
Contents of the dossier went public on January 10, 2017, when BuzzFeed published its contents arguing that, since this document was being discussed in the halls of Congress, it had news value. While much of the contents of the dossier remain unconfirmed — and it’s hard to imagine how some of the most salacious claims could be proven — the dossier is not “debunked” as many have prematurely proclaimed, including President Trump, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, et al. In fact, much of its content has been corroborated.
So does this report that the DNC and Clinton campaign funded this dossier effectively “flip the script”? Is the Clinton Campaign now guilty of colluding with Russians? That may seem far-fetched, but the idea behind this allegation is that Steele reportedly paid sources close to the Kremlin for information that would effect the outcome of the election. Senator Chuck Grassley recently suggested as much, asking “was the FBI aware that Mr. Steele reportedly paid his sources who in turn paid their sub-sources to make the claim in the dossier?” Well reports of Steele paying sources isn’t proof, but worth looking into.
After the Washington Post published the report that the DNC/Clintons took over the underwriting of the dossier, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted “Hard 2read this w/o concluding Clinton campaign colluded w Russia 2interfere in US election.” But DailyWire founder Ben Shapiro replied with this more thoughtful take, tweeting “This assumes facts not in evidence: that Steele was actively duped by Russia and the DNC/Hillary campaign knew it.”
Shapiro is exactly right. There is still just too much unsubstantiated information and allegations on all sides of this story. Is there proof of collusion with either Trump or Clinton campaign? No. Is there evidence that merits an investigation? Well judging by the actions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, yes there is.
This is the argument as I see it:
- Trump supporters in media will try and use this news to “reverse” the Russia story on to the Clintons.
- But we can’t conflate the Trump investigation with the Clintons paying for opposition research — it’s not the same thing.
- What’s more, there is still no serious evidence that Clinton camp did anything more than pay for opposition research from a US firm.
- Whereas hacking of DNC etc a clear crime, that US intel has already concluded was conducted by Russia.
What is somewhat ironic here is that the Clinton Campaign’s defense on this matter is that they were only paying for opposition research, something that everyone does. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because that’s exactly the same defense that Donald Trump, Jr. made after his meeting with a Russian Lawyer in Trump Tower went public, suggesting a quid pro quo on Clinton information for a repeal of the Magnitsky Act.
The bottom line? Too many of the allegations on both sides remain unsubstantiated. Just because one sees smoke does not automatically mean there is a fire. And both sides of this narrative battle would be wise to turn down the heat a notch or two, until we start seeing facts. Because like my dad used to tell me, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and they usually stink.
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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.