Good Friday Morning! The Steele Dossier is back in the news again! It’s been a while since that specific item has been in the news. I had to run a search through past newsletters to find out the last time I’d even referenced the now infamous dossier. I’ll update my thoughts on that news story first today.
Next up, I’ll go through the recent retirements in the GOP Senate and House and what that tells us about the 2018 midterms. With Senators Corker and Flake resigning, it’s raised questions about party strategies in 2018. Links follow.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
This week commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the USSR coming into being as a communist nation. Vladimir Lenin and his cohorts overthrew the government and installed communism. Thus began, what we look back on now, as the red century for Russian and Asia. I examine some of Lenin’s speeches and letters from that time to show how it was far from a legitimate form of government and failed at being a government formed through the consent of the governed.
The Steele Dossier: Started by Republicans, Finished by Democrats, but not important
I first wrote about the Steele Dossier, which you’ll more likely hear called the Fusion GPS dossier presently, back in January. Before jumping into the analysis, I think it’s best to back up and review where we are, based on the most recent Washington Post report:
- During the Republican Primaries, an unknown Republican client for Fusion GPS funded research into Trump/Russia connections.
- Remember, Trump was very friendly towards Vladimir Putin in speeches and rallies. He refused to criticize the Russian despot. His attitudes made people question why he was so pleasant towards Putin.
- After Trump won the primaries, the Republican funding dried up, and the matter was dropped. From what we know now, no report was created at this time, only the earliest stages of intelligence gathering.
- Lawyers for Clinton’s campaign and the DNC then retained Fusion GPS for the same services.
- Christopher Steele, a former MI6 intelligence agent, was hired to begin retrieving information from his previous contacts in Russia.
- The result of all of this was the now infamous Steele Dossier which is a 35-page report full of raw human intelligence (HUMINT).
- Clinton’s campaign lawyers continued to pay for this service until October 2016, just before the election.
- The FBI became aware of the dossier in mid-summer of 2016. Steele shared the report with them, and the FBI launched an investigation
- The Steele Dossier got leaked to multiple press agencies, most of whom refused to publish the story. The reason being is that non-intelligence community people are incapable of understanding what they’re reading. It was impossible for any journalist to verify a single claim in the Steele dossier.
- In January, despite all of this, Buzzfeed decided to publish the full 35-page dossier report.
- As I noted at the time, this was reckless on Buzzfeed’s part because everyone in intelligence circles knew the dossier contained outright Kremlin misinformation. The Russians knew Steele was probing and fed him some info that everyone knew was false. That’s not to say everything was fake in it. Indeed some parts of it HAVE been verified. That’s the nature of HUMINT and why the public is incapable of rendering a verdict on it.
- Around the same time Buzzfeed published the report, the heads of the FBI and CIA met with then President Obama and President-elect Trump to inform them of the existence of the dossier. US intelligence at the time believed the file was purposely filled with misinformation, at the time, to discredit Trump. They thought he needed warning of the report in the event it got used against him.
That’s a short timeline of the dossier. It’s unverified raw HUMINT that’s not verifiable by journalists or non-specialists (hence why you’ve seen conspiracy theories fly out from this). That’s what we know about the dossier itself and some of the contents. With that, it’s important to note the following: The dossier is not essential for the Trump/Russia story, the UraniumOne story, or Russian meddling in the US election.
First, the dossier doesn’t do anything to reverse the official opinion of US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the US election. Their official position was (from January):
Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
Russian malfeasance may have shown a preference for the Trump campaign, but the only reason that was the case is due to Russia’s longstanding policy of undermining US-led democracy. Trump’s campaign was a tool to that overall end.
The Russians don’t care about who wins US politics, as long as our internal divisions paralyze us from pursuing our interests abroad. Russians pushed fake information supporting Trump, false stories attacking Trump, support for extremist Black Lives Matter sites, and Twitter handles that pretended to be the Tennessee GOP account. Fringe white supremacist groups have also received Russian help in amplifying their message.
The point is this: Russian intelligence services have used direct and indirect methods to manipulate the American public. Clinton’s campaign funding the Steele dossier changes none of that. The Russians want an ineffective America no matter who is in office.
Second, the dossier does nothing to disprove any collusion attempts by the Trump White House. I saw some on FoxNews attempting to make this argument. They claim that this proves a big conspiracy against Trump by the FBI, Russia, FusionGPS, and others. It’s like reading a reverse version of the Democratic conspiracies before this…
Here’s what we know:
- Trump’s data team, Cambridge Analytica, tried to work with Julian Assange and Wikileaks to publish Clinton’s deleted emails. Assange and Wikileaks are known Russian intelligence fronts hostile to the United States.
- Donald Trump Jr. tried to get dirt on Clinton through Russian-backed sources.
- Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort is under multiple investigations, the newest involving money laundering charges. Manafort could get indicted for his role in propping up pro-Putin puppet regimes in Ukraine. Smart people on the right immediately questioned his dark past and Trump hiring him.
- Parts of the dossier HAVE BEEN verified. Just because it’s campaign opposition research doesn’t mean it’s fake. When the heads of the FBI and CIA believe it’s important to brief the incoming and outgoing President on it, you can’t take it lightly.
The short version of this entire debacle: Trump and Clinton’s campaigns tried using Russian sources to take out the each other. Clinton’s lawyer’s funding, at a minimum, a majority of the dossier, changes very little about Robert Mueller’s investigation, Russian meddling, or any other story on the Russia front. Pretending otherwise is playing pure politics over truth.
I want all the investigations currently running on Russian interference to ramp up extensively. Every stone from Russian meddling to Uranium One should get turned over. Finding the truth and protecting the United States should be the top priorities, not safeguarding politics or politicians.
What do retiring Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) tell us about 2018
Generally speaking, when incumbent Senators and Representatives of the governing party start retiring before a midterm election, it’s a sign that the ruling party expects electoral losses.
Only Jeff Flake fits the description of that theory here. While Bob Corker was never the hard-core conservative choice in Tennessee, the odds are high that he would have won re-election handily (which is why, contrary to Trump’s attacks, Trump tried convincing Corker to run again). So while Corker stepping down looks more like him not wanting to deal with a Trumpian Washington, Jeff Flake’s decision undergirds the notion that he would lose either his primary or the general election.
Jeff Flake managed to anger not just the Trumpian side of his base, but left and right in general. His voting record was solidly Republican, among the most Republican in the Senate. What cost Flake was his refusal to “bend the knee” to Trump. Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics has the best take here in his piece: “Flake Retirement Helps the GOP in Ariz. Senate Race.”
The fear among Republicans was that Flake would lose his primary to former state Senator Kelli Ward, an equally hated person because she makes Sarah Palin seem sane. Flake stepping down lets the GOP find someone better to win the primary and keep AZ a red state.
Republicans only have a 52 seat majority in the Senate. While the odds of them losing that majority in 2018 are slim, retirements make holding that majority harder. In theory, Corker and Flake’s seats should remain in Republican hands, even if a Democratic wave election hits. But if they nominate bad candidates, holding those positions will get exponentially harder.
Democratic fundraising plus Republican retirements (plus some strange signals on conservative donations) give us mixed messages right now. All eyes are on the Virginia Governor’s race, which is closer than anticipated. So while withdrawals are troubling, don’t raise the alarms. Democrats are showing electoral wave strength… yet.
Best links of the week
Taking President Trump Seriously: Last year, we asked experts to examine Candidate Trump’s policy proposals. This year, we’ve asked them to examine how he has executed these proposals in office. – Commentary Magazine
Why is the Virginia Governor’s Race so close? – David Byler, The Weekly Standard
The Teen Girls Who Defied Boko Haram – Krista Stevens, Longreads
Democrats in denial – Damon Linker, The Week
A soldier’s perspective on Bergdahl – Chase Spears, The Baltimore Sun
Three things you should know about RT and Sputnik – EU vs. Disinfo
How did New Atheism fail so miserably? – Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex
Former NPR CEO opens up about liberal media bias – Ken Stern, The New York Post
It’s Time for Bill O’Reilly To Be Weinsteined – David French, National Review
Satire piece of the week
MIAMI, Fla. — Allowing a Member of Congress adequate time to exploit the death of a service member has officially been added to the U.S. Army’s Casualty Notification Process, sources confirmed today.
After receiving an inquiry about the casualty notification process from Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), the Department of the Army decided to modify the somber process of notifying the next of kin of a soldier killed in action.
Now, a politician will be allowed the opportunity to carefully craft a narrative which fits whatever their political party wants out of a dead soldier, according to defense officials.
Thanks for reading!