Ever since the Democratic National Committee was hacked and had numerous emails published on July 22nd through Wikileaks, the narrative the media has been trying to push through is the idea that Trump, or at least Trump’s surrogates, had colluded with the Russian government in order to bring that hack into existence. I am, frankly, getting sick and tired of this ongoing debate, and the political hay being made over it on both sides.
The DNC had malware spread across its network, and so the DNC ended up calling in a private cybersecurity firm known as “Crowdstrike” in order to determine how the hack was played out, and who is responsible for it. I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of cyber-security expert, I am not. However, I can draw a few things from this report, and various other private reports on the attack itself. Crowdstrike lays the blame for the DNC leak and email phishing on two separate actors which have been dubbed “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear” or “APT29” and “APT28” respectively. They determined that the Cozy Bear actor had been present in the DNC systems since the summer of 2015 while the Fancy Bear actor didn’t show up until the spring of 2016. The DNC called for CrowdStrike’s services in June of 2016, and the leaks were published in July of 2016.
So, if we are to take the accusation that Trump or his surrogates colluded with the Russian government in order to make these hacks happen, a few things have to be true. That these two actors are connected to Russian intelligence agencies and were ordered to undertake this task by the Kremlin, that Donald Trump and/or his surrogates knew this task was being ordered by the Kremlin, and that Trump and/or his surrogates conspired with the Kremlin in the undertaking of this task.
If we examine the timing of various events we can see that there are some strange coincidences. Crowdstrike claims that “Cozy Bear” was in the DNC systems since the summer of 2015, and Donald Trump officially announced that he would be running for President on June 16th, 2015. Of course, this would suggest that Trump or his surrogates had already set-up a sophisticated and complex hacking operation targeting the DNC before he had even announced his candidacy, or hired any of the people who are currently being cited as “smoking guns” for the Trump campaigns involvement. No such evidence, as far as I’m aware, has surfaced of this. So instead of looking at the “Cozy Bear” actor, I think it is more appropriate to examine the “Fancy Bear” actor when considering the chronology.
It’s important to take note at this point that no one is suggesting that Russia toyed with the outcome of the election via vote rigging or anything to that effect. The accusation is that the Russian government ordered a couple of groups to hack into the DNC, find compromising information, and then release it in order to hurt the Clinton campaign. The only effect this could’ve had on the election was that people were now privy to private information that would hurt Hillary Clinton in the running for President in a “public opinion” fashion. It has also been reported that the RNC suffered a similar attempt at an attack, but the attack ended up failing. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections” where no evidence is actually presented to us, but simply the repeated conclusion that the Russian government was actively involved in these hacks.
Nowhere in the reports by Crowdstrike is there absolute proof that the Russian government is involved. The only thing that can be said about them from these reports is that they are based in Russia, these types of attacks require a lot of skill and time to undertake, and that they sometimes select targets that they think would be in Russia’s interests. Certainly there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that would suggest it is state-operated, and perhaps the FBI, CIA, and NSA have information that we aren’t privy to for national security reasons. However, with the information available to the public, at present, it would be unwise to leap to that conclusion until further evidence is presented. It is entirely possible that our intelligence agencies have damning evidence they can’t show us. It does say in the report,
“This report is a declassified version of a highly classified assessment. This document’s conclusions are identical to the highly classified assessment but this document does not include the full supporting information, including specific intelligence on key elements of the influence campaign. Given the redactions, we made minor edits purely for readability and flow.”
Unfortunately, with the public information available to me, I can’t tell you whether the Russian government was or wasn’t involved in the hacking. But that means, neither can the press, without taking the intelligence community’s word for it. However, the press continues to report the contents of this report as if it was roundly accepted and established fact. When that very clearly isn’t the case for the average American, it’s only established, maybe, to various officials who wouldn’t disclose said classified information to the press to begin with. In order to dispel your fear a little bit, there will be no brand new “DEFINITE ABSOLUTE PROOF THAT THE RUSSIANS DID IT” headline coming out anytime soon unless the press somehow got access to classified information, which intelligence officials don’t just give out when being interviewed by journalists. There isn’t absolute proof, but there isn’t “no evidence” either. In my personal estimation though, it doesn’t look good for the Russian government. This circumstantial evidence is going to be very difficult to explain away, but it is still possible that it could be explained away.
Anyway, barring the accusation against the Russians, those who would make this charge against Donald Trump still have all of their work ahead of them in order to implicate Trump and his campaign team with a charge of collusion with the Russian government. If the Russian government was not involved in this hacking attempt, then the case falls apart completely. So, just for the sake of argument let us take the accusation against the Russians as true in order to deal with the latter portion of this apparent indictment. A couple public figures that have been, and are currently, being cited as the “smoking gun” by the press are Michael Flynn, and Jeff Sessions, and the Russian “fertilizer king” Dmitry Rybolovlev. I’ve found no evidence of Rybolovlev having any sinister connection to the Kremlin, in fact, the only evidence I’ve found is the the Russian government is hostile towards him.
Paul Manafort is also cited and served as Trump’s presidential campaign chairman from the end of March 2015 until mid-August of 2016. If there is any possible sinister link between the Trump campaign and Russia, it would be through the likes of Manafort. He has volunteered to testify before an intelligence committee on Russia and so I’m going to leave his case alone for now. We’ll see how everything plays out. I will be going through the cases of Michael Flynn, and Jeff Sessions to examine if they can be implicated in colluding with the Russian government to enact these DNC hacks, and whether they can be implicated in any other Russia-related scandal.
Okay, first off we will start with Michael Flynn who was Trump’s former National Security Advisor. According to him, he got a call from Trump in the summer of 2015. In an interview with Dana Priest Michael Flynn claimed that he was advising five of the candidates, to include Donald Trump. Michael Flynn first interacted with Donald Trump, according to this same interview, in late summer of 2015. Flynn also accounts of one of the trips he made while serving as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in which he was allowed into the headquarters of the GRU [one of Russia’s intelligence agencies] during which, he briefed the staff and gave them a class on leadership. Flynn was invited by the now-deceased General Igor Sergun in June of 2013. If one is going to suggest that this is the moment in time in which Michael Flynn can be implicated in this DNC hack issue then one has to believe a few very improbable things. One has to believe that this operation was something that was openly talked about by GRU officials with the currently serving Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. One must be able to convince themselves that members of the GRU discussed their plans for hacking the Democratic National Committee *with* a then serving US Intelligence director.
I find this to be completely unbelievable. Why would the Russian intelligence community risk compromising their operations in such an obvious way? Especially in the middle of a meeting that was purported to have been arranged to assist in bridging the Russia-US divide? Of course, the evidence currently offered against Michael Flynn was that he omitted the discussion of sanctions when reporting on his talks with the Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak who has been serving as Russia’s ambassador to the US since 2008. Correspondence between incoming administration officials and foreign diplomats is not an unusual practice. The Trump administration also claims that Michael Flynn had correspondence with diplomats from various other countries as well. There were conflicting stories from Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, and Donald Trump himself about the nature of Flynn’s resignation and there was a report issued by Fox News which stated that Trump was fully briefed of the complete content of the phone call despite his saying that he had no idea what the press was talking about when asked about whether he had seen reports saying Flynn had discussed the sanctions with the Russian ambassador. And this was all brought to light due to FBI leaks, I wouldn’t call this a leak of classified information because whether or not the sanctions were brought up in a phone call between Flynn and the Russian ambassador isn’t exactly a threat to national security.
In late December of 2016 the FBI reviewed intercepts of the communications between Flynn and the Russian Ambassador, but have found no evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government. The same was said of Trump himself. The FBI also investigated in the summer of 2016, according to the New York Times, not a very pro-Trump source,
“For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank. Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”
But of course if we cycle back to the ODNI report on the hacking released on January 6th of 2017 (which used information dating up to December 29th), the FBI joins in the conclusion along with the CIA and the NSA that Russia hacked the DNC and various campaign officials specifically in order to damage Hillary Clinton and get Donald Trump elected. What is the average person supposed to believe? What type of new information surfaced between late October and late December that warranted such a 180 flip from the FBI? Provided that what the New York Times reported was true. It might be classified, it might not exist. In fact, many assessments in that report are alongside a “high degree of confidence” which reads, from the ODNI report: “High confidence generally indicates that judgments are based on high-quality information from multiple sources. High confidence in a judgment does not imply that the assessment is a fact or certainty; such judgments might be wrong.” Just so you can be aware of how things are being graded.
According to the Washington Post which originally broke the “Flynn Russia call” controversy,
“The FBI in late December reviewed intercepts of communications between the Russian ambassador to the United States and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn — national security adviser to then-President-elect Trump — but has not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government, U.S. officials said.”
So unless one is going to posit that the FBI is lying to the Washington Post in order to cover for the likes of Michael Flynn, or the Washington post is lying about an FBI source that counters their previous “jumping the gun” attempt to suggest Flynn was in cahoots with the Russians over something or other…I think we can call this case…closed. There is currently an emerging second scandal with Flynn over whether he violated the “Emoluments Clause” otherwise known as the “Title of Nobility Clause” which reads:
“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
This accusation is brought toward Michael Flynn with the revelation that he was paid to speak at the 10th anniversary gala of the news network Russia Today which gets direct funding from the Russian government, but is not itself the Russian government. Whether that technicality means anything, I don’t know. This could be classified as an “emolument” which basically means a salary or fee. I wouldn’t rule out, at present, the possibility that Flynn did indeed violate the Emoluments Clause depending on the financial situation there. That still remains “Plausible.” It should be noted that in the same interview with Dana Priest, Flynn remarked on that gig “I was asked by my speaker’s bureau, LAI. I do public speaking. It was in Russia. It was a paid speaking opportunity. I get paid so much. The speaker’s bureau got paid so much, based on our contract.” So…there’s that to take into account as well. But, if it’s such an obvious violation of the emoluments clause for this to have taken place why would Flynn have just said that he violated it outright in an interview with an adversarial media? Is Michael Flynn that stupid?
The Jeff Sessions case appears to be more of the same. Jeff Sessions is the current Attorney General for the United States. Al Franken asked Jeff Sessions a question in light of a completely unverified dossier released by Buzzfeed and CNN which alleged that Russian operatives had information about President Trump that could be used for blackmail.
Al Franken: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
Jeff Sessions: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I’ve been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians and I’m unable to comment.
The Washington Post then released an article pointing out that Jeff Sessions had, in fact, met with the Russian ambassador twice. But neither of these incidents are without innocent explanations considering he was meeting with them in his capacity as a Senator. From context, it is clear that Sessions is talking about communications relating to the campaign. He followed up with a clarification that leads us directly to that conclusion. Jeff Sessions responded in writing to Senator Patrick J. Leahy who asked him, “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?”
Jeff Sessions responded unequivocally, “No.”
According to Sessions’ spokeswoman, he also had meetings with twenty-five different ambassadors from different countries during his work as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. This entire case is based on nothing but malicious innuendo, and the majority of the press seems to be stomping along with it. If it becomes suspicious that a U.S official whose duties involve speaking to ambassadors, speaks to ambassadors, then we’ve arrived at an interesting time in history. Jeff Sessions has since, recused himself from overseeing investigations into more of these “Russia ties” allegations. I think the press in the United States needs to take a good hard look in the mirror, and take responsibility for the hysteria they’ve implanted into the minds of the American People, and its governing bodies. So far, the investigations have turned up empty-handed. If they continue to turn up empty-handed, many factions of the press can decide to take responsibility for what they’ve done, or double down and become no better than the likes of InfoWars when it comes to journalistic integrity.