Regular readers know that I've been rather tough on Team Trump when their Russiagate spin doesn't add up. In recent weeks, I've hit them pretty hard on the Donald Jr. story, and flagged additional problems for the Attorney General. But my consistent, overarching theme on the Russia matter is that we ought to follow all of the facts and let investigators do their work. When exculpatory evidence surfaces, that should matter just as much as when new information looks damning -- unless, of course, you have a pre-determined agenda, as seems to be the case with many in the press. That said, good for the Washington Post to run with a story that disrupts the collusion storyline in which so many of their colleagues are heavily invested. Email records prove that Russian government envoys tried to open private lines of communication with the Trump campaign, and were rebuffed:
Papadopoulos, a campaign volunteer with scant foreign policy experience, persisted. Between March and September, the self-described energy consultant sent at least a half-dozen requests for Trump, as he turned from primary candidate to party nominee, or for members of his team to meet with Russian officials. Among those to express concern about the effort was then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who rejected in May 2016 a proposal from Papadopoulos for Trump to do so…On March 24, [Sam] Clovis, the campaign co-chairman who also served on the foreign policy team, reacted to one proposed Russia meeting by writing, “We thought we probably should not go forward with any meeting with the Russians until we have had occasion to sit with our NATO allies.” In the same email chain, [Charles] Kubic, the retired admiral, reminded others about legal restrictions on meetings with certain Russian officials, adding, “Just want to make sure that no one on the team outruns their headlights and embarrasses the campaign.”
Writes Allahpundit, "not only weren’t [Trump campaign bosses] interested, they were mindful of proper protocol: At least one advisor noted that meetings with a foreign state would raise Logan Act questions while another mentioned that U.S. allies should be notified before any Russia meetings happened." That...doesn't sound like the behavior of an operation intent on collaborating with an adversarial foreign government, does it? Again, none of this erases Manafort's sketchiness or the now-infamous Trump Jr. meeting (and subsequent lies about it). Those still exist and still look bad. But countervailing evidence matters, too.
These freshly-revealed emails look like a conscientious campaign doing the right thing and expressing appropriate skepticism when approached about opportunities to huddle with the Russians. You can argue that maybe they turned down these contacts because they were involved with the Kremlin at a higher level elsewhere, but there's no proof of that. You can also contend, as WaPo's story does, that this further demonstrates Moscow's keen interest in establishing ties with the Trump camp. That's fine, but that Russian interest would need to have been improperly reciprocated and acted upon to be a scandal. Collusion requires at least two parties, by definition. So this strand of evidence cuts in Trump's favor. That is relevant, and ought to impact the trajectory of The Narrative. And so should this, via Politico:
The Obama administration received multiple warnings from national security officials between 2014 and 2016 that the Kremlin was ramping up its intelligence operations and building disinformation networks it could use to disrupt the U.S. political system, according to more than half a dozen current and former officials. As early as 2014, the administration received a report that quoted a well-connected Russian source as saying that the Kremlin was building a disinformation arm that could be used to interfere in Western democracies. The report, according to an official familiar with it, included a quote from the Russian source telling U.S. officials in Moscow, "You have no idea how extensive these networks are in Europe ... and in the U.S., Russia has penetrated media organizations, lobbying firms, political parties, governments and militaries in all of these places."
...[Some in] the national security community say an overly cautious Obama White House could have done more both during the campaign and in the previous months and years to alert Russia that it was aware of its intentions to subvert the U.S. democracy — along with those of some other Western countries — and would retaliate forcefully at the first sign of Russian interference. POLITICO spoke with more than a dozen current and former officials from across the national security spectrum, including intelligence agencies, the State Department and the Pentagon. Almost all said they were aware of Russia’s aggressive cyberespionage and disinformation campaigns — especially after the dramatic Russian attempt to hack Ukrainian elections in 2014 — but felt that either the White House or key agencies were unwilling to act forcefully to counter the Russian actions.
Russia's interference occurred on Obama's watch, and here we have a sizable group of national security professionals assessing that the previous administration didn't confront the problem with sufficient seriousness. Why not? Was Obama still wrapped up in a 'Russia-is-no-biggie' mentality, which formed the basis for his dismissive ridicule of Mitt Romney's more realistic view of Putin's threat? Was he still clinging to the failed "reset," of which Hillary Clinton was the chief architect? Or did he just arrogantly assume -- especially during the campaign -- that Democrats would retain the White House, so poking the Russian bear wasn't worth it? Especially when there were other priorities at hand:
"The truth is, nobody wanted to piss off the Russians." Why? Big piece of the story, missing from this article: P5+1 negotiations with Iran. https://t.co/3pL2Vs2I8i— John Tabin (@johntabin) August 14, 2017
Obama was legacy-building with his awful nuclear deal with Tehran throughout his second term (his administration lied about the timetable), and he desperately needed Russia's cooperation (more so than he needed Congress'). Is it hard to envision Team Smart Power being willing to let some cyber warfare slide in order to keep Vlad onside vis-a-vis Iran? No, its not at all. Regardless, this story's analysis sure makes it sound like Democrats only became super concerned about Russian malfeasance after they were casting about for post-defeat scapegoats. I should add that neither of the stories quoted in this piece offer dispositive proof or vindication that means this controversy is closed. But they cut against the very loud drumbeat of Russia stories that have dominated the media for months, and ignoring them would be dishonest.