Trump and Russia: my best guess

There are conflicting narratives in the political world. This has likely always been true, but the separation of the narratives feels more palpable than any other time in my life. Sure, we’ve had conflicting narratives before: Reagan painted a picture of a world where the poor were living large on the handouts of the rich, and the counter-narrative was that nobody is “living large” and that people need help. There has been the belief that deregulation is good for us because regulations provide a costly burden, and this is countered by the cost is worth the protection that regulations provide. But these were issues of perspective, not issues of mutually exclusive views of the world. That feels quite different from what we have now, especially when it comes to Trump and Russia.

According to what I’ll call the “FoxNews view” of the world, we are witnessing an attempted coup. This is not the view of the news division at FoxNews, so my label is only partly fair, but this is the view of at least some of the editorial division. The Washington Post noted this rhetoric in December, and it seems to have intensified with the recent tweets of the president. I don’t live in this world, but I watch it from the outside, and here’s what I can gather. Fair warning, I spend a lot of time criticizing the straw man fallacies that come out of places like FoxNews (see here, and here, and here; or use the search bar on the right to look for “straw”). I may be unintentionally guilty of building a straw man here. I’m trying to see what they’re seeing, and I simply can’t make sense out of it, but here goes.

The investigation into Trump is partisan and nothing else. Kellyanne Conway said, “The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning, and they were pro-Hillary.” Sometimes an ounce of truth is all that’s needed to create a full blown narrative. I do not doubt that there were many in the FBI who did not like the idea of a Trump presidency. I have no problem believing that. That said, James Comey is accused of being a Hillary supporter, and that is hard for me to swallow. Comey was a registered republican, was initially nominated by George W. Bush and served as Deputy AG under Bush. Mueller came before him, and served under both Bush and Obama, and Obama was criticized by left-leaning groups for appointing Comey (largely in part to playing a role in arguing for the legality of enhanced interrogation under Bush. It is very hard for me to believe that Comey has more in common with democrats than with republicans. Granted Trump isn’t a typical republican, but, as we’ve seen, many republicans still favor Trump over any democrat. Moreover, it is clear to me that Comey played a critical role in the election outcome. This was not deliberate, and I do not see his role as anything nefarious, but polling had Clinton pretty solidly ahead in Pennsylvania right up until the announcement that emails were found on Weiner’s laptop. From that day forward, the polls tightened. Pollsters like Nate Silver had trouble with this, and plenty of people have criticized them for getting the polls wrong, but consider this: we had bad polling data from Michigan (a critical state for Trump) and in Pennsylvania the polling showed a strong change in direction toward Trump. Silver and others explained that the sharp change in the days before the election should be viewed in context, but the sharp change was clearly more reflective of the way that voters would ultimately behave. With that in mind, it’s hard for me to see the Comey announcement as a critical factor in the election. So, for me to believe that Comey was out to get Trump from the start, I’d have to set aside the evidence that Comey helped (inadvertently) Trump get elected. I’d also have to set aside what we now know: that Trump and his associates were already under investigation for suspected wrongdoing.

Still in this narrative, there’s an attempted coup by the FBI, and it all seems to involve Hillary and Uranium One. This image showed up in a FaceBook friend’s feed. I don’t know who created it, or where they got their information from, but here’s what’s missing from all of it: a motivation. The image makes it seem like it was all a cover-up for Uranium One, but that has a required element: that Trump was a threat to exposing something having to do with Uranium One. I don’t see that part of the puzanti-Trump coupzle in any of the things we’ve seen, and I’m still not convinced that there’s anything behind the whole Uranium One thing. I think the only reason it’s gotten any attention is because it’s Hillary and has the word “uranium” in it. It’s not nuclear weapons that were sold, it was a power company, and it wasn’t ours in the first place. Even then, the Secretary of State was one vote needed to approve the sale, and I haven’t heard any talk of the others being bribed, so the whole thing seems silly to me.

Then there’s this possibility. Trump had ties with Russia. He had business with Russia, and knew Russian business people. Trump knew others who had business dealings with Russia. Was any of this illegal? I don’t know, but I’m going to give Trump the benefit of the doubt and say that nothing he did was illegal. Nevertheless, people he was associated with were already on the radar of the FBI. We also know that a Russian lawyer reached out to Trump’s son saying that she had dirt on Clinton, and we know that a meeting was scheduled and occured. We also know that on June 3, 2016, Trump Jr accepted the meeting, saying “if it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer.” Four days later, on June 7, Trump gives a speech and says, “I am going to give a major speech on, probably Monday of next week, and we are going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” Of course, this major speech never happened, and, as far as we know, the June 9th meeting did not provide any “dirt” on Clinton. Trump Jr told Hannity that the meeting was a waste of 20 minutes, which seems predicated on the assumption that he didn’t get the dirt he wanted. Putting aside the coincidence with this meeting coming less than a week before the news breaks about the Russians hacking the DNC’s computers, let’s just imagine what seems like the best case scenario for Trump, that nothing actually happened at the meeting, and it was a genuine coincidence.

I don’t know if this is the only involvement, and I’m sure we’ll find out more in the months, years to come, but it’s not hard for me to imagine that, at least for Trump himself, that was the extent of it, at first. Although there’s nothing illegal about that meeting, others involved in politics have made it clear that if a member of an adversarial government came to them with “dirt” on an opponent, their first call would be to the FBI. So let’s give Trump the benefit of the doubt and say that, because he’s not a seasoned politician, he didn’t know there were real lines that shouldn’t be crossed in politics. His ‘outsider’ view says that it’s all dirty, and there aren’t lines, and he might truly believe that any other candidate would have taken that meeting and used any dirt they could get on an opponent. OK. That seems plausible, but that’s where the trouble continues. Although not illegal, Trump is smart enough to know, in hindsight, that this wasn’t a good move. So the FBI investigation continues. Members of the House and Senate are informed, and the decision is made that information like this should not be made public and that it would seem too much like trying to tip the scales in the election. So things are kept quiet (unlike things about investigations of Clinton, which were released; but that’s another story).

Trump clearly has self perception problems. He seeks praise, and doesn’t handle even playful teasing very well. We’ve seen this many times. Even without that, it’s not hard to imagine that news about Russian interference with the election process (not with the election itself, but with the information that people use to decide which candidate to support) could delegitimize his election, and create legal problems. So Trump’s response is to repeatedly say that the Russia thing is all made up by sore losers. Perhaps out of fear that he did, in fact, break the law, or simply trying to avoid the political problems that come with investigations, Trump makes some moves: He orders the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to put pressure on Sessions to not recuse himself.  He fires Jim Comey, and says he fired him because he was too focused on Russia. Since then, it’s been one thing after another.

So I’m left considering these narratives: a conspiracy to oust Trump, in spite of Trump not being a threat to any of those trying to oust him, and in spite of the alleged ringleader being partly responsible for Trump being elected, or Trump and his affiliates were genuinely mixed up in some shady shit, and in an attempt to cover up stuff, created more problems for themselves.

It’s hard for me to imagine a world where the second isn’t the most sensible, but that FoxNews world clearly exists.

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