I have previously explained how the conservative media entertainment complex and the Trump administration are amplifying “active measures” (propaganda) practiced by the Russians. The conservative media entertainment complex is an ancillary to Russian ‘active measures’ propaganda.
There has been a coordinated effort between our Twitter-troll-in-chief and Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal and GOPropaganda network FAUX News (aka Trump TV) in recent weeks to fabricate a fantastical alternate universe reality in which “President Hillary Clinton” colluded with the Russians and she and James Comey and Robert Mueller all must be prosecuted — for something. This is best exemplified by Trump’s Minister of GOPropganda at Trump TV, Sean Hannity, and Trump’s close friend “judge”Jeanine Pirro. See, The Fox News-Murdoch effect: Mueller must resign! Or be fired!, and The GOP strategy on the Russia scandal: ‘No puppet. You’re the puppet.’
While most observers argue this is an attempt to distract, divert and to mislead the public from the Russia investigation (it is), Greg Sargent explains that it is much more nefarious than this. Trump and his allies are laying the groundwork for a Saturday Night Massacre:
Let’s be clear on what’s happening in our politics right now. President Trump and his media allies are currently creating a vast, multi-tentacled, largely-fictional alternate media reality that casts large swaths of our government as irredeemably corrupt — with the explicitly declared purpose of laying the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe, should he deem either necessary.
We often hear that Trump and his allies are trying to “distract” from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s intensifying investigation. That’s true, but this characterization inadequately casts this in terms ordinarily applied to conventional politics. Instead, Trump’s trafficking in this stuff should be seen as another sign of his fundamental unfitness to serve as president. Similar efforts by his media allies [e.g., Stepehen Bannon at Breitbart] should be labeled as a deliberate effort to goad Trump into sliding into full-blown authoritarianism, and to provide the air cover for him if he does do so.
The Associated Press reports that people who have spoken to Trump say that he has recently revisited the idea of trying to remove Mueller, now that Mueller appears to be digging into Trump’s finances. Meanwhile, CNN reports that former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon is privately urging Trump to try to get Republicans to defund Mueller’s probe.
Monday night, Sean Hannity delivered perhaps the most perfect expression yet of efforts to create the rationale for such moves. Hannity dismissed the news of major allegations against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the cooperation of adviser George Papadopoulos as big nothingburgers. He also hit all the high points of the new Trump/media campaign, points that Trump himself and the White House have made repeatedly in public statements. Those include reviving the made-up scandal that Hillary Clinton approved a deal for a Russian nuclear agency to gain access to U.S. uranium extraction rights in exchange for kickbacks, and the absurdly exaggerated claim that the Clinton campaign, having paid through various intermediaries for research that ultimately led to the “Steele Dossier,” actually colluded with Russia to interfere in the election. These have been extensively fact checked and debunked.
In an important new piece, Post fact checker Glenn Kessler blows another big hole in one of this campaign’s key story lines. Kessler notes that multiple Trump media allies are repeating the claim that Clinton gave away “20 percent” of our uranium capacity to Russia. And he shows that, for various technical reasons, this figure is itself absurdly inflated, and the description of this as a Clinton giveaway has no relation to reality.
But the real point of Hannity’s presentation came when he flatly accused Mueller of trying to “change the narrative to distract from the real Russia collusion and massive cover-ups.” Hannity added that Mueller “is clearly complicit in the Uranium One scandal.” This is a reference to the fact that Mueller headed the FBI when the uranium deal happened. Reports that the FBI was investigating a Russian energy official’s efforts to corrupt a U.S. company at the time have led to GOP questions about why the Obama administration green-lighted the deal anyway. But this is also absurd, as Kessler explains, since the deal went through an extensive multi-agency process and no evidence has been presented that this process improperly skirted any FBI probe.
Regardless, Hannity concluded: “We are at a real crisis point in America tonight.” Trump has tweeted in support of many of these allegations. And as Jonathan Chait details, other Trump media allies have explicitly cited these and other similar story-lines (Mueller’s investigators are Dem donors!) in support of the notion that Mueller should resign or that Trump should close down the Russia probe.
We don’t know if Trump will go full authoritarian or not. But as Brian Beutler says, the mere fact that congressional Republicans are not flashing a bright warning sign itself suggests that we cannot count on any procedural response meeting it, if it does come to that. The continued media treatment of efforts to lay the groundwork for such an eventuality as mere efforts to “distract” from Mueller suggests another guardrail is inadequate as well.
Indeed, it’s important to reckon with the scope of what Trump and his allies are alleging. The idea is that Mueller — who was originally appointed to head the FBI by George W. Bush, and who became special counsel because of Trump’s own firing of his FBI director over the Russia probe — originally participated in a hallucinatory conspiracy to cover up Clinton collusion with Russia. Now Mueller is using the current investigation to distract from it. In this alternate universe, all of that is the crisis (Hannity’s word) we face, and the only way to address it is for Trump to close all of it down. Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg is right to point out that Trump’s trafficking in all of this — his endorsement of the idea of preposterous levels of corruption and conspiracy theories unfurling at many levels throughout the government — itself raises questions about Trump’s fitness to serve. We need to confront the insanity and depravity of all this forthrightly, and convey it accurately.
The NewYork Times editorializes today about That Crazy Talk About Robert Mueller:
And then they came for Robert Mueller.
If there were any remaining hope that Republicans would accept the precise, methodical work of this veteran, highly respected, Republican-appointed law enforcement official — the man Newt Gingrich once called a “superb choice to be special counsel” — it has evaporated in a fog of propaganda and delirious conspiracy theories.
* * *
These days, the most serious attacks on American governance are coming not from abroad, but from Mr. Trump’s aides and his allies in the right-wing media and Congress. As ludicrous as these attacks seem, they could yet lead to a constitutional crisis.
Reading the increasingly outlandish theories cooked up by Mr. Trump’s defenders and apologists is like entering an alternate, upside-down universe where Hillary Clinton remains Public Enemy No. 1.
In these irrelevant tales, Mrs. Clinton (or, as Sean Hannity called her on Monday, “President Clinton”) is the real colluder, working stealthily with the Russians to — stay with us here — destroy her own candidacy. Also, she and Bill Clinton once sold American uranium to the Russians. Also, Robert Mueller failed to fully investigate that sale when he led the F.B.I., so he’s complicit in it, too, not to mention he has ties to Mr. Comey, who also led the F.B.I. Also, some of his investigators donated to Democratic candidates.
There’s no bottom to the delusion on display. At this point, investigators could release videotapes of Vladimir Putin personally handing Mr. Trump a uranium-lined briefcase filled with stolen emails, and the right-wing armada would find a way to blame Mrs. Clinton. (This would be followed, of course, by a congressional investigation to identify who leaked the tapes.)
These efforts at obfuscation and misdirection would be laughable, but they are linked to a very real and dangerous move by Trump allies throughout right-wing media and the government to shut down the Russia investigation for good.
It’s no secret that Mr. Trump has been itching to get rid of Mr. Mueller since soon after his appointment as special counsel in May. Mr. Trump’s advisers have told him that would be a terrible idea and have reportedly talked him out of it more than once. But the calls for such a move are now coming from some of the most influential voices in conservative media, as are other equally bad proposals, like urging that Mr. Mueller resign and that Mr. Trump pardon anyone and everyone caught up in the Russia investigation — including himself.
Mr. Trump would be wise to continue to ignore these loony ideas and restrain his own authoritarian reflexes. The president of the United States, no less than any citizen, lives under the law, not above it; Mr. Mueller’s investigation is the embodiment of that fact. Removing him now, after he has already secured two indictments, including one for Mr. Trump’s former campaign chief, and a guilty plea by a foreign-policy adviser, would send the message that Mr. Trump and his aides are accountable to no one.
* * *
The scenario in which Mr. Mueller loses his job, or Mr. Trump further abuses his pardon power, is hypothetical — and may it remain so — but if it materializes, it will fall to Congress to defend the foundations of American democracy, the separation of powers and the rule of law.
The Washington Post editorializes today, Trump pulls another stunt of cynical distraction:
DID HILLARY CLINTON sell the country’s uranium to Russia in return for donations to the Clinton Foundation? Did the Democrats collude with Russian nationals to tip the election against Donald Trump?
No, and no. Which raises a third question: Why is any of this relevant, particularly now? A fair look at the facts suggests only one option. President Trump needs a distraction, and his surrogates, some Republican members of Congress, right-wing media and even some people in mainstream outlets [e.g., The Hill] are helping him gin up outrage against a woman who is not, was never and will never be president. It is a measure of the power of partisanship to warp people’s judgment that this bald trickery is getting any traction.
Here are the facts. In 2010 Rosatom , the Russian nuclear authority, bought a piece of Uranium One, a Canadian company that held rights to mine a share of U.S. uranium deposits. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved the deal. The State Department, then run by Ms. Clinton, was one of nine agencies represented on that committee, though the Treasury Department had the lead. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also had to approve the deal, and President Barack Obama had the final call.
The conspiracy theory is that people related to Uranium One had given money to the Clinton Foundation, mostly before the 2008 election, and therefore Ms. Clinton pressed the deal through. But given the structure of the committee, the separate NRC approval and the president’s role in the process, it was not really Ms. Clinton’s decision to make, even if the Russians had tried to influence her. In fact, a key premise of the conspiracy theory — that the United States gave up a big chunk of its uranium to the Russians — is simply wrong; none of the uranium could legally be exported, anyway.
Claims that the Clinton campaign colluded with Russia are similarly perplexing. Ms. Clinton’s campaign helped pay for a dossier of unconfirmed accusations about Mr. Trump, some of which a British former intelligence official gathered from Russian contacts. It’s fair for Congress to want the full story on this and to be frustrated that it has been emerging in fits and starts. But U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that insofar as the Russian government’s efforts to sow discord boosted any one candidate, the Kremlin aimed to help Mr. Trump, not Ms. Clinton. The Russian government did not get the dossier’s content published on WikiLeaks — as it did a variety of emails it stole from the Democrats — or anywhere else before the election.
The real scandal in all this is the cynicism of the president and others trying to distract Americans and draw moral equivalencies where none exist. Even White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, at one time considered to be among the more sober members of the administration, called Monday for an investigation into Ms. Clinton. Mr. Kelly should think about what this does to his credibility — and to the country’s. The party in power is demanding the investigation and possible prosecution of its defeated political rival on trumped-up claims of wrongdoing. This is what happens in banana republics, not the world’s greatest democracy. Even if this is just a strategy to divert attention, it is unbecoming of the leaders of a rule-of-law state and a disservice to their oaths.
The conservative media entertainment complex is spoiling for a constitutional crisis in order to plunge the country into “Trumpism” authoritaraism and tyranny. This is a real scandal.
UPDATE: New York’s Jonathan Chait noted the other day:
In some ways the theory of alt-collusion mirrors the propaganda methods used by Putin himself. When William Browder publicizes Russia’s murder of crusading lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, Russia turns around and implies that maybe Browder is the one who murdered Magnitsky. The accusation is preposterous, but that doesn’t matter. The purpose is to create an offsetting accusation against the accuser, so that the average bystander can only puzzle at the spectacle of two sides making the same allegation against each other.
This method can work if you have enough mouthpieces who are sufficiently devoid of skepticism or intellectual self-respect to be willing to spread your obviously absurd message. A key fact that Trump has discovered, and which has enabled his takeover of the Republican Party, is that this is a resource the American right has in abundant supply.