What was James Comey’s big takeaway from the end of the special counsel investigation? “The Russia thing was not a hoax,” Comey told NBC’s Lester Holt, “we were right that there was a massive effort to elect him [Donald Trump] and to defeat Hillary Clinton.”
That wasn’t quite what Robert Mueller found, and that’s not quite what the hoax complaint was about, however:
“Is this over?” –@LesterHoltNBC
“Well not over until we see the transparency. The important question has been answered. The Russia thing was not a hoax.” – James @Comey speaks out on Mueller report in an exclusive interview. pic.twitter.com/JuEOgiFHPO
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 28, 2019
It’s not accurate to say that no one called the idea of Russian interference in the 2016 election a “hoax,” as Trump himself has occasionally suggested that it might not have happened. Most people, however, accepted those conclusions long ago, and those who pay attention would know that Russia has been interfering in elections for a long time. The “hoax” part as most people understood it was the idea that Trump and/or his campaign colluded with Russia in those efforts.
If all that was at stake was Russian interference, then this never needed to go beyond a counterintelligence operation. It was the FBI’s decision to start surveilling Carter Page and to seize on the Christopher Steele dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign to investigate Trump that turned this into a two-year circus, complete with special counsel and Comey’s own self-promotion. The “collusion” narrative started on Comey’s watch and with Comey’s apparent tacit approval. Comey can talk all day about how it’s “good news” that no Americans were involved in Russia’s efforts, which it is, but if it wasn’t for Comey’s FBI, no one would have taken such an idea seriously in the first place.
The massiveness and intent of the operation is also still open to question. Estimates of the Russian disinformation efforts put their investment at about $25 million — not chump change, but a drop in the bucket compared to the $2 billion the two campaigns and their allies spent. The hacking operations had more impact, but that had more to do with bad information security at the DNC. Russia attempted to hack the RNC too, but had less success in defeating their security. The disinformation campaign also played against both sides, although primarily against Clinton until after the election, at which point they took aim at Trump.
Was this a “massive” effort? Not really, but its successes despite the relatively modest effort should have worried nat-sec officials and focused efforts on fixing those problems, rather than running around chasing the “collusion” tail. Russia’s mission in both operations was to take aim at American confidence in our election systems. In that they did succeed massively — with the help of James Comey and the rest of the “collusion” hysterics.