“O Goody Ruskies”: Mueller Finds Witches But Which Witches Are We Hunting?

600px-Witchcraft_at_Salem_VillageBelow is my column in The Hill newspaper on the most recent indictment of Russian military intelligence figures for hacking the computer systems linked to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic party.  Once again, the indictment seems straightforward in what is says and what it does not say. Yet, the Washington spin machine quickly put forward highly distorted accounts, including media reports that worked hard to avoid acknowledging obvious elements of the indictment.

Here is the column:

“They caught the witches.” Those were the celebratory words of John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, in response to the indictment Friday of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for hacking efforts linked to the 2016 election. Only hours before, President Donald Trump repeated his favorite mantra, calling the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller a “rigged witch hunt.”

Trump always has been wrong about the Mueller investigation, which many supported after he fired then-FBI Director James Comey. As this investigation once again proves, there be witches in those woods. The question, however, is the type of witches we were hunting.

The problem with hunting witches is that you can quickly forget what sent you on the hunt, or gradually view most everyone as a witch. In Salem, Mass., in 1763, Mary Easty was convicted by deranged girls yelling “O Goody Easty, O Goody Easty, you are the woman.”  That was it. Witch.

The problem in the Russian investigation is that we have plenty of crimes but not necessarily plenty of colluders.

 

The demonic Internet character Guccifer 2.0 was a carefully constructed false identity of a hacker, who turned out to be Russian intelligence officers. Before we all shout “O Goody Ruskies,” we should keep in mind the distinction between criminals and colluders. Trump is correct that none of these indictments have established any crime linked to collusion by himself or his key aides. That does not mean that the investigation is rigged or improper.

After 14 months of investigation (and for the second time in a formal indictment), the Justice Department has stated that it is not alleging any knowing collusion between Trump campaign officials or associates and the Russians. Back in February, Mueller handed down his major indictment of 13 Russians for actively interfering with the 2016 election by spreading false information. Both Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expressly noted that the evidence involved “unwitting” communications with Russians adopting false identities. This indictment shows that same pattern of clearly concealed identities in seeking to hack and distribute email information from the Democratic campaign and its associates.

When I noted at the time of the February indictment that it was strikingly silent on evidence of collusion, some insisted that the indictment did not cover the hacking operation and that Mueller was likely waiting to indict Trump officials colluding on the theft and distribution of the emails. We are still waiting. While the indictment speaks of both a reporter and a Trump campaign associate unwittingly communicating with the Russians, the indictment does not allege knowing collusion. That does not mean that no one colluded on some level, but after 14 months we have yet to see compelling evidence of collusion by Trump or his campaign.

There are some individuals who, according to media reportsmay have sought hacked material from WikiLeaks. There also is an unnamed journalist who sought such information, and even an unnamed candidate for Congress. That does not mean, however, that it is a crime for reporters or academics or political activists to review such information if they did not play a role in illegal removal. Indeed, numerous journalists, including at least one reporter for The Hill, sought access to Guccifer 2.0’s information.

Moreover, the efforts of the Russian operations detailed in these indictments do not establish a particularly significant impact on the election. When the Russians began this operation in 2016, we were already irreconcilably divided as a nation between the two least popular candidates ever to run for the White House. Thirteen trolls in St. Petersburg, or 12 military hackers in Moscow, certainly could spit into that raging ocean, but it remains highly unlikely to have had a material impact on the election.

As for the information shared by the Russian units, it is was rather underwhelming even to the recipients.  For example, Guccifer 2.0 sends a Trump associate what is described as “the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The Russians were eager to help, even saying in similarly stilted language, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow … it would be a great pleasure to me.” However, the recipient simply responds that the information is “pretty standard.”

Indeed, much of this effort may have been much too “standard” for some of us to admit. The continued shock and revulsion expressed by many leaders at the thought of such interference is a tad forced. The United States has intervened in foreign elections for decades, including leaking stolen documents. Not long ago, our hacking of our own allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was revealed. Many nations regularly try to influence elections and this is nothing new for the United States, either as the culprit or as the target of such efforts.

In other words, if there were a real hunt for election witches, we would find ourselves at the head of the line to the pillory.

Does that mean that the Mueller investigation is somehow invalid? Of course not. This remains an attack on our system, there is still work to be done, and we should all want the FBI to continue that work unimpeded.

With minutes of its release, the latest indictment was unrecognizable after being put through the centrifuge of the Washington spin machine. The fact is that the indictment largely confirmed what we knew. It shows an effort by the Russians to undermine Clinton and influence the election; it also shows no evidence of knowing collusion and, indeed, very limited evidence of unknowing collusion.

So, ignore the exclamations of “O Goody Ruskies.” We can be outraged by the Russian operation without being hypocrites as to our own history. Likewise, we can support the Mueller investigation without ignoring the fact that no credible evidence has thus far arisen against Trump on collusion.

In other words, if you want to find witches, start by not being chumps.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

346 thoughts on ““O Goody Ruskies”: Mueller Finds Witches But Which Witches Are We Hunting?”

  1. From the Brookings Institute, not a friend of Trump and more of a friend to the left.

    “Throughout his presidency, Obama consistently underestimated the challenge posed by Putin’s regime.
    But not everything is relative; we should not slip into collective amnesia over the Obama administration’s weak and underwhelming response to Russian aggression. Throughout his presidency, Obama consistently underestimated the challenge posed by Putin’s regime. His foreign policy was firmly grounded in the premise that Russia was not a national security threat to the United States. In 2012, Obama disparaged Mitt Romney for exaggerating the Russian threat—“the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama quipped. This breezy attitude prevailed even as Russia annexed Crimea, invaded eastern Ukraine, intervened in Syria, and hacked the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Obama’s response during these critical moments was cautious at best, and deeply misguided at worst. Even the imposition of sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine was accompanied by so much propitiation and restraint elsewhere that it didn’t deter Russia from subsequent aggression, including the risky 2016 influence operation in the United States. Obama, confident that history was on America’s side, for the duration of his time in office underestimated the damaging impact Russia could achieve through asymmetric means.

    Obama’s cautious Russia policy is grounded in three conceptual errors: a failure to grasp the true nature of the Russian threat, most clearly visible in his administration’s restrained response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014; a “long view” of historical trends which in his view inexorably “bent” toward liberalism; and the perception that formidable domestic political obstacles stood in his way when it came to crafting a response to Putin’s assault on the elections in 2016.”

      1. Yeah, those irksome pencil necked people, um, geeks, sorry, that write in whole sentences with a vocabulary expansive enough to actually convey their thoughts are surely obsolete.

        Plus, they probably couldn’t crawl for more than ten yards dragging ammo, “when things go hot,” so what good are they?

        ‘Prolly’ right on that one, Kurtz.

    1. George Will made a common mistake. A healthy skepticism of government departments and findings is not the same thing as disrespecting all people in those departments.

      Overstating what is known, not to mention outright lying, happens in the intelligence community. A claim that someone who points this out disrespects people in these departments is a sophist response, and I am surprised to see George Will make it.

      1. “A healthy skepticism of government departments and findings is not the same thing as disrespecting all people in those departments.”

        This is true, but George Will never makes the claim that Trump is, “disrespecting all people in those departments.”

        This whole cloth is yours alone.

        “Overstating what is known, not to mention outright lying, happens in the intelligence community.”

        This is true, also. However, the “lying” typically occurs with what is eventually released to the public, essentially the executive perspective of the many opinions argued internally.

        An excellent case in point would be the Office of Special Plans (OSP), which existed for only nine months in the hysterical buildup in justifying our invasion of Iraq in March, 2003.

        The OSP, in my and many other’s opinions, was formed to knowingly inject faulty intelligence into the question of whether Iraq had WMDs.

        In the end, almost all the “intelligence” gathered by OSP was from Ahmed Chalabi, who saw himself as the heir apparent of Iraq.

        The final filtering, or ‘lying’ of what we know is typically defined by the executive.

        1. Well Will’s specific words were that Trump showed he had no allegiance to our intelligence institutions. If you want to parse words and play games, there’s plenty of work for you in Washington.

          I find your weapons of mass destruction notation too dismissive of institutions other than OSP. As for concerted lying, Lyndon Johnson was not able to fabricate Gulf of Tonkin on his own. He had plenty of help, and it wasn’t from anything analogous to OSP.

          1. “Well Will’s specific words were that Trump showed he had no allegiance to our intelligence institutions.” — SteveJ

            What you said was: “George Will made a common mistake. A healthy skepticism of government departments and findings is not the same thing as disrespecting all people in those departments.”

            I only pointed out that Will did not make the claim that you did. Now you move your argument on this account.

            Concerning OSP: there were many other agencies involved — please note my, “[a]n excellent case in point would be the Office of Special Plans (OSP)” as pointing to the most obvious — read the history of its short life.

            Also note that I wrote in agreement with your two statements, only noting details of variance.

            The Gulf of Tonkin has nothing to do with current events, especially after NSA analysts released documents to the national archives in 2005– along with their assessment that the claims of the then administration had no merit.

            I’m assuming you realize that in most respects I agreed with your post.

            If you want to argue semantics, talk to Allan.

            But, please, don’t think, like Kurtz does, that little glimmers of new-found history by you is news.

            1. “I only pointed out that Will did not make the claim that you did.”

              I’ll indulge you a little, but I don’t think you’re being serious.

              Will made the claim I said he made. He made that claim by saying: “Trump showed he had no allegiance to our intelligence institutions.”
              I mean what do you think Will meant by that. Putting something in quotes and noting the author is making a claim are two different things. Would you like to use the word point instead of claim?

        2. Incidentally, claiming that Gulf on Tonkin has nothing to do with government agencies lying or overstating their findings is incorrect.

    1. We don’t know when this poll was taken or if it’s even a Gallup poll. And ‘who’ is David Sirota..??

  2. Enigma, a while back you questioned some of the reports on illegal voting. I thought you would enjoy this. Make sure you listen to the entire video. Would you have preferred HB-1264 not been passed?

    Just last week, the governor of New Hampshire has signed HB-1264 into state law, which improves the integrity of the state’s election system. If all goes according to plan, New Hampshire will require its voters to prove their residence in the state before they can cast a ballot.

    1. This may have been posted before.

      Obama: Statesman; Trump: Traitor. Fake News at 11!

      And of course we know, had President Trump publicly confronted Putin while the world was watching, he would have immediately been portrayed as a reckless and egotistical amateur on the world stage that put the United States, our allies and 200 billion poor, innocent women and children at immediate risk of dying in a hellish nuclear war.

      Most of all, Obama and his aides had to figure out how to ensure the Russians ceased their meddling immediately. They came up with an answer that would frustrate the NSC hawks, who believed Obama and his senior advisers were tying themselves in knots and looking for reasons not to act. The president would privately warn Putin and vow overwhelming retaliation for any further intervention in the election. This, they thought, could more likely dissuade Putin than hitting back at this moment. That is, they believed the threat of action would be more effective than actually taking action.

      A meeting of the G-20 was scheduled for the first week in September in China. Obama and Putin would both be attending. Obama, according to this plan, would confront Putin and issue a powerful threat that supposedly would convince Russia to back off. Obama would do so without spelling out for Putin the precise damage he would inflict on Russia. “An unspecified threat would be far more potent than Putin knowing what we would do,” one of the principals later said. “Let his imagination run wild. That would be far more effective, we thought, than freezing this or that person’s assets.” But the essence of the message would be that if Putin did not stop, the United States would impose sanctions to crater Russia’s economy.

      Obama threatened—but never did pull the trigger. In early September, during the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China, the president privately confronted Putin in what a senior White House official described as a “candid” and “blunt” talk. The president informed his aides he had delivered the message he and his advisers had crafted: We know what you’re doing, if you don’t cut it out. We will impose onerous and unprecedented penalties. One senior US government official briefed on the meeting was told that the president said to Putin in effect, “You fuc* with us over the election and we’ll crash your economy.”

      But Putin simply denied everything to Obama—and, as he had done before, blamed the United States for interfering in Russian politics. And if Obama was tough in private, publicly he played the statesman. Asked at a post-summit news conference about Russia’s hacking of the election, the president spoke in generalities—and insisted the United States did not want a blowup over the issue. “We’ve had problems with cyber intrusions from Russia in the past, from other counties in the past,” he said. “Our goal is not to suddenly in the cyber arena duplicate a cycle escalation that we saw when it comes to other arms races in the past, but rather to start instituting some norms so that everybody’s acting responsibly.”

      https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/03/why-the-hell-are-we-standing-down/

    1. the danger of voter fraud is real. dems are convinced it can only happen when a republican ballot is cast, however

      1. “dems are convinced it can only happen when a republican ballot is cast, however”

        Not true. Best not to generalize, Mr. K.

        1. i guess you’re right. here was one little reported felony voter fraud case against a democrat operative that was in a primary so it didn’t involve any phony republican votes

          https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/election-fraud-tainted-2008-presidential-race-indiana-hans-von-spakovsky/

          it’s not entirely clear whose ox was gored in that story, as phony voter signatures were fabricated for hillary and obama both; the consensus seems to be the net gain was for obama

  3. New York Times Article In 1984 Predicts Trump Could One Day Be A Great President

    By Rusty | Featured Contributor | July 11, 2018 9:32AM
    A column appearing in the New York Times in 1984 has resurfaced, in which it discusses real estate mogul Donald Trump’s uncanny ability to engage in successful negotiations, and even openly wonders if he might one day disarm hostile countries as President of the United States.

    It’s funny since the Times has now morphed into thinking the once brilliant negotiator is an incompetent clown.

    Reality dictates otherwise, with the President engaged in talks to disarm North Korea and bring peace – a once unimaginable concept – to the Korean peninsula. (RELATED: Historic Handshakes Compared: Trump Exudes Strength, Obama Oozed … Something Else).

    In the lengthy Times article, Trump is hailed repeatedly by friends and business rivals alike as a master negotiator. (RELATED: After Obama Failed, Trump Finally Brings World Cup to America).

    “Our company has given up trying to negotiate costs with him,” the head of a construction company explains. “We just say: ‘Tell us what you want, you’re going to get it anyway.’”

    The column then shifts to how this ability might translate on the biggest stage – negotiating with hostile countries as leader of the free world. The country they bring up at that time in Syria, but the task at hand remains the same, and the Times clearly believes he has the ability to become the negotiator-in-chief.

    In 1984, the New York Times told us that Donald Trump would be our best president.

    They forgot.

    — Johnny Ray (@johnnyrwhitsett) 12:15 AM – Jul 4, 2018
    “What does it all mean when some wacko over in Syria can end the world with nuclear weapons?” Trump asked when talking about his future plans.

    The column continues:

    His greatest dream is to personally do something about the problem and, characteristically, Donald Trump thinks he has an answer to nuclear armament: Let him negotiate arms agreements – he who can talk people into selling $100 million properties to him for $13 million. Negotiations is an art, he says and I have a gift for it.

    Does he ever.

    Donald Trump is a lot of things. Stupid ain’t one of them. Look at what the New York Times said about him in 1984. This is amazing.https://www.nytimes.com/1984/04/08/magazine/the-expanding-empire-of-donald-trump.html?pagewanted=all

    — John Steigerwald (@Steigerworld) 3:44 PM – Jul 8, 2018
    While some believed that these were the dreams and optimism of a naive Trump, the newspaper surmises that “through years of making his views known and through supporting candidates who share his views, it could someday happen.”

    Fortunately, it did happen. And the United States, along with the rest of the world, is a better place for it.

    President Trump has since been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize following a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

    Trump has “taken a huge and important step in the direction of the disarmament, peace, and reconciliation between North and South Korea,” Norwegian lawmakers wrote in their nomination letter.

    Who would have thought that the New York Times of all places called it 34 years ago?

    For decades, Trump was seen as a hero for African American workers in New York City, but all of that changed when he decided to run for president. During an event in 1999, the Reverend Jesse Jackson happily praised Trump’s contributions to the black community saying “We need your building skills, your gusto . . . for the people on Wall Street to represent diversity.” Jackson also called Trump a “friend” who “embraced “the under-served communities.” In addition, Jackson also commended Trump for giving opportunities to African Americans in New York: “When we opened this Wall Street project . . . He gave us space at 40 Wall Street, which was to make a statement about our having a presence there.”

    Follow this story to get email or text alerts from The Political Insider when there is a future article following this storyline.
    How could a man with a long record of helping minorities in New York suddenly be a racist? Oh, that’s right, it’s because he decided to enter politics as a Republican. The allegations against the President are baseless and devoid of any truth, but that hasn’t stopped the left from smearing President Trump as a racist.

    https://thepoliticalinsider.com/new-york-times-predicted-trump-presidency/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=criticalimpact&utm_campaign=TPI_breaking_newsletter_7_14_2018&utm_content=b8e5e6f82d126c72a6473c7b9fa19141&source=CI

    1. For Enigma in case he chooses not to read to the bottom of the article above:

      “For decades, Trump was seen as a hero for African American workers in New York City, but all of that changed when he decided to run for president. During an event in 1999, the Reverend Jesse Jackson happily praised Trump’s contributions to the black community saying “We need your building skills, your gusto . . . for the people on Wall Street to represent diversity.” Jackson also called Trump a “friend” who “embraced “the under-served communities.” In addition, Jackson also commended Trump for giving opportunities to African Americans in New York: “When we opened this Wall Street project . . . He gave us space at 40 Wall Street, which was to make a statement about our having a presence there.””

    1. i agree with this

      “I continue to think, however, that as a substitute for other responses to serious cyberintrusions, indictments on balance signal weakness.”

      YES. Mueller’s witch hunt does nothing to address the problem that can only be addressed by this

      https://www.cybercom.mil/

      acts of sovereign belligerence by Russia should be met proportionately with countermeasures in the proper theatre. the federal courts are not the proper theatre.

  4. Tom you make some good points. However I really believe that JFK met a very tough old man who came from a wry different world than Hyannis Mass. Nikita didn’t go to Harvard, and he didn’t go to a prestigious prep school. Nikita did see war on the eastern front in WW2. He lived under Stalin. These 2 men came from 2 different worlds. Just sayin.

    1. Ind. Bob,…
      – I think JFK’s aides tried to prep him for exchanges with Khruschev….I don’t know if they thought he was ready to bat heads with Nikita, or even if they agreed that the summit should be held only 5 months into the new JFK administration.
      Especially on the heels of The Bay of Pigs embarassment just two months earlier.
      I think you’re right about the summit being a mismatch because Kennedy was not used to dealing with a character like Khrucschev.
      Khruschev did not communicate in nice diplomatic language; he was a crude, peasant-type really, who once used his shoe like a gavel at the U.N.
      His son Sergei, who is a Princeton? professor, has revealed a lot about his father.
      Khrucschev was unlikely to try to roll over Eisenhower, or Nixon, the same way he roughed up JFK.
      The full extent of Kennedy’s medical issues wasn’t widely known until c. 30 years after he was killed.
      JFK was written up in medical journals like JAMA as the first known Addisonian to survive major surgery.
      This was c. 1954, 6 years before he defeated Nixon in 1960.
      The clues in those articles alone were enough for a competent journalist to figure out who the medical journals were talking about.
      I think some in the press,and elsewhere, knew that Kennedy was an Addisonian.
      The LBJ camp was the likely source of the rumors circulating during the 1960 campaign for the nomination.
      Kennedy got away with a flat denial that he had Addison’s, and the issue faded away.
      It’s hard to say how much if a factor, if any, JFK’s health issues contributed to his poor performance against Khruschev in Vienna.
      Richard Reeves wrote an excellent book in the early 1990s, revealing in great detail the status of JFK’s health.
      I’ve read the book, but I can’t recall the title.

    2. PS…I think Khruschev finished the third or fourth grade…that was the extent of his formal education.
      He did have a sense of humor…when Power’s U-2 was shot down over Soviet territory, on or around May 1, 1960, he asked “What is this? A May Day present from the United States!?”
      He also initially concealed the fact that Piwers was alive; U,S. authorities were pretty sure Powers could not have survived the SAM strike on the U-2.
      So they made up a cover story that a weather-monitoring aircraft had accidentally gone off course and unintentionally violated Soviet air space.
      After they floated that story, Khrushchev produced Powers.😃

      1. Kruschev is lucky he didn’t get offed by Beria. Stalin prolly was done in by him. Krus. capitalized.

  5. I remember the look on JFKs face after he had a summit with Nikita K. He looked like he got hit by a truck. Nikita told Kennedy how things really were.The Soviet Union is gone and we’ re still here. We pulled out of Vietnam in the70 s. In the last quarter of the 20th century the US was the sole super power. Sometimes it’s better to lose a battle but win the war.

    1. Ind. Bob,…
      Laying the groundwork for meeting Khrucschev by involvement in The Bay of Pig fiasco just before the Vienna Summit was probably a bad idea.
      JFK had egg on his face before he even left for Vienna.
      He was also worn down physically. I don’t know when he was first “treated” by Dr. Feelgood, Max Jacobson, but JFK didn’t seem to have his regular level of speed in his system to keep him alert.
      A widely held view is that Kruhzchev decided, soon after meeting JFK in Vienna, to increase his military presence in Cuba, ultimately putting the nukes in place barely a year later.

    1. Ind. Bob,….
      Most of Romney’s views on Russia are now part of Democratic Party orthodoxy.
      There are some GOP politicians with a hawkish, “get tough” policy position re Russia, but we’ve been hearing that line more from the Democrats than the GOP.
      At least since 2016.

      1. be honest they just scare up that Russophobe stuff when they don’t have the podium
        when obama de-escalated with Russia– wisely– THEN it was ok

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