The meddling, it knows no bounds.
Coming home in a taxi from the airport last night, the little screen on the back of the driver’s seat informed me that the election night team at RT, the Russian television network, will be composed of Ed Schultz, Larry King and … wait for it … Jesse Ventura. If you don’t think I’ll be tuning into that trio at least for a while, you’re out of your mind. That being said, something happened Monday that should give us all a chilly pause.
On Sunday night, and again at a rally Monday, during one of his harangues about Hillary Rodham Clinton, Donald Trump cited one of the e-mails hacked out of the account of Clinton campaign spokesman John Podesta in which Sidney Blumenthal purportedly told Podesta that…
“Clinton was in charge of the State Department, and it failed to protect U.S. personnel at an American consulate in Libya. If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate.”
The e-mail was pried loose by WikiLeaks and promoted by Sputnik, a Russian online news service. Kurt Eichenwald, whose reporting on Trump for Newsweek has been superb, read the dispatch and thought that it all sounded familiar … because it sounded like something he’d written. He can pick up the story from there.
The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000-word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek—the magazine’s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article. The Russians had carefully selected the “of course” paragraph, which mentions there were legitimate points of criticism regarding Clinton and Benghazi, all of which had been acknowledged in nine reports about the attack and by the former secretary of state herself. But that was hardly the point of the story, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.” The piece is about the obscene politicization of the assault that killed four Americans, and the article slammed the Republican Benghazi committee, which was engaged in a political show trial disguised as a congressional investigation—the 10th inquiry into the tragedy.
And he asks the only pertinent question that matters.
So how did Donald Trump end up advancing the same falsehood put out by Putin’s mouthpiece?
There is little question now that Vladimir Putin is playing monkey-mischief with the 2016 presidential election, and that the Trump campaign is the primary beneficiary of that. The evidence, even without Eichenwald’s smoking gun, is overwhelming. Even the American intelligence community thinks so. (And, in the debate on Sunday, Trump disparaged the notion, all the while stupidly blurting out something he’d learned in his national security briefing on the subject, sending the head spooks up the wall.)
This should be authentically frightening for anyone who cares about this democracy, and anybody who’s calling this “McCarthyism” can go whistle up a tree. Putin is a Russian power player, no less than Stalin or Peter the Great. Either he’s playing WikiLeaks for marks, or WikiLeaks is being one of the most useful idiots since Trotsky took an ax in the dome. Nobody doubts that WikiLeaks has performed some very real and useful public service, but it’s beginning to look like a cult now, and Julian Assange is beginning to look like some sort of mad monk missionary, and their defenders are beginning to look like fools. As Eichenwald put it:
The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump?
In the debate on Sunday, Trump denied that he owed any substantial debt to the Russian oligarchs for whom Putin fronts on the world stage.
But as far as other elements of what she was saying, I don’t know Putin. I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example. But I don’t know Putin. But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia. I know — I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.
Of course, he’s previously said that he and Putin were old pals from the time they shared an episode of 60 Minutes. And, “I don’t deal with Russia?” Caudillo, please. The facts on Trump’s slow dance with Russian money have been out there for months, in The Washington Post last June, among other places.
Still, the weekend was fruitful for Trump. He received a portion of the $14 million paid by Agalarov and other investors to bring the pageant to Moscow. Agalarov said he and Trump signed an agreement to build a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow — at least Trump’s fifth attempt at such a venture. And Trump seemed energized by his interactions with Russia’s financial elite at the pageant and a glitzy after-party in a Moscow nightclub. “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room,” Trump bragged to Real Estate Weekly upon returning home.
Vladimir Putin, a ruthless authoritarian kleptocrat, is trying to influence an American presidential election, and he intends to employ all means, fair and foul, though mostly foul, to put the man he wants leading the United States in the Oval Office. In the case of Kurt Eichenwald, the attempts were clumsy and stupid, so the fine hand of the Russian oligarchs became exposed. We must assume that’s the exception, and not the rule. Donald Trump has exposed American democracy as being far more fragile than we thought it was, and far more fragile than any of us should be comfortable with. He’s had a lot of help, too.
-Excerpt and images courtesy of the Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20161027154546/http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a49499/putin-election-trump/