An extremely Shep reaction to the comments made earlier today by Kushner about Russian meddling amounting to “buying some Facebook ads.”
It’s true, Kushner came off like a jackhole by glossing over Russia’s hacking of the DNC and John Podesta. Posting dopey memes on Facebook is trivial nonsense, just as he says. Breaking into Americans’ inboxes and weaponizing the contents is not. And the angst Trump’s critics feel about Russiagate has as much to do with the cavalier attitude of Trump’s team about it as it does with what Russia actually did. The campaign didn’t collude or conspire, but notwithstanding Kushner’s lip service today about Russian activities being a “terrible thing,” it often did seem to condone what Moscow was up to. Remember Trump half-jokingly appealing to Russia on the trail to “find” Hillary’s missing emails? Trump repeatedly crowing about how much he loved Wikileaks for publicizing the Podesta emails that Russia had lifted? Trump time and again trying to cover for Putin by insisting that the hacker could have been some fat kid sitting in a basement somewhere, never mind what U.S. intelligence concluded? Rudy Giuliani was still defending the publication of hacked emails as of two days ago, comparing it to the Pentagon Papers. Team Trump palpably didn’t mind that Russia lent a hand in 2016 and there’s no reason to think they’d object to Putin lending a hand again in 2020. Anything to win.
On the other hand, knowing now what we know from the Mueller report, I can’t argue with Kushner’s conclusion that the Russiagate probe has caused more discord than Russia’s campaign activities did. I’ve seen solid arguments with polling data to support them that Comey’s last-minute letter about reopening the Emailgate investigation swayed the outcome of the race. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a convincing argument that the Wikileaks material did. Clinton led for practically the entire campaign, sizably at times during the home stretch, and then the race tightened around the time Comey sent his letter and late deciders began making up their minds. I blogged the race hour by hour and to this day I couldn’t name for you a memorable revelation from the DNC/Podesta material if asked to do so. As I recall, few commentators at the time thought Russia’s activities would matter to the outcome, and even at the end when Hillary’s lead began to shrink it was Comey’s actions that outraged the left more so than Russia’s. If Hillary’s blue wall in the midwest had held, and it almost did, I suspect Russia’s meddling would have been seen as an epic blunder by Putin, a hamhanded attempt to influence the race in marginal ways with little apparent upside and a major downside in pissing off the newly elected president.
By contrast, the Russiagate investigation has led to a two-year cottage industry of conspiracy theorizing in American media about the many ways the president of the United States might be a foreign agent, under the power of the Kremlin, working against U.S. interests at Russia’s behest. What hurt the country more, the email hackings or a widespread belief on the left that Trump is a Manchurian candidate in cahoots with Bond villain Vladimir Putin?
Here’s my question for Kushner, though: What would he have had Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller do? Granted, the Russiagate probe was bitterly divisive and contributed to Trump’s delegitimization among his critics. But given all the contacts between Trump officials and Russians during the campaign, given Trump’s weird apologetics for Putin and Wikileaks, given the fact that his campaign did benefit to some negligible degree from Russian interference, how could the DOJ not look into it? One of the drivers of discord over Russiagate was Trump himself, who could have clammed up about the probe secure in the knowledge that he hadn’t colluded and would be vindicated in the end but instead chose to attack the investigation daily as the product of 18 angry Democrats aiming to take him down on behalf of the Obama administration. He may wind up talking himself into impeachment proceedings in the House for obstruction of justice, which will increase the discord factor by an order of magnitude. Even now, three years later, rather than put Russiagate behind him Trump is chattering about investigating the Obama-era officials who launched the probe. He seems to think the discord around the probe can be made to work for him for once. And he intends to try.