Even without the assault on the Capitol, it was still a coup. (Part 2 of 2)
Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you all had a good weekend.
Today’s post is a continuation of last Thursday’s newsletter. If you haven’t read that yet, you can do so here:
I started that post with a basic overview of some of the arguments made in defense of Republicans regarding January 6th. Most notably, there seems to be a big push to pretend that the only thing that was in any way out of the ordinary was the storming of the Capitol itself, and not, you know, the months of trying to figure out a way to overturn the results of an election that Donald Trump unequivocally lost.
After successfully re-writing the history of Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, why wouldn’t they try to use this same tactic for January 6?
I don’t blame GOP apologists for trying to use this (extremely dishonest) line of argument. After all, this is the exact same tactic they used to rewrite the history of the Trump-Russia investigation, which they have (more or less) successfully rebranded “the Russia Hoax.”
In March 2019, Trump lackey William Barr released a letter “summarizing” the findings of the Mueller investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Naturally, Barr’s letter painted a pretty rosy picture for Trump — but it wasn’t accurate. In fact, days after Barr released his letter, Mueller himself sent Barr a letter worried that Barr’s letter misrepresented key elements of the investigation.
The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions. We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.
The truth is that yes, Russia ran a public influence campaign aimed at helping Trump in the 2016 election, and Trump’s campaign had numerous contacts resulting in what a bipartisan Senate report called “a grave counterintelligence threat.”
The Committee found that the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multi-faceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Parts of this effort are outlined in the Committee’s earlier volumes on election security, social media, the Obama Administration’s response to the threat, and the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment.
Republicans get by with a little help from their friends (the press and “anti-anti-Trump” commentators).
If you were to ask someone who’s read the Mueller report and the bipartisan Senate reports to describe what “Russian interference” means, they would probably say something along the lines of it being a multifaceted influence campaign by the Russian government to hurt Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run for president, help Trump’s 2016 run once he became the Republican nominee, and sow doubt about the state of American democracy. If you ask that same person what the most effective portion of that campaign was, they’d likely be able to answer it in a single word: Wikileaks.
Remember the steady stream of email leaks between July and October 2016? Remember how they started right when the Democratic National Convention was about to begin? Remember how a new set of emails were released just hours after the damning “Access Hollywood tape” was released? Yeah, that.
Once again, from the Senate report:
The Committee found that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the hack-and-leak campaign targeting the DNC, DCCC, and the Clinton Campaign. Moscow’s intent was to damage the Clinton Campaign and tarnish what it expected might be a Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and generally undermine the U.S. democratic process. The Committee’s findings are based on a variety of information, including raw intelligence reporting.
The hack-and-leak campaign was conducted by the GRU through specialized cyber units, executed using established GRU infrastructure, and planned and coordinated by GRU headquarters elements. Starting in March 2016, the GRU used spearphishing techniques to gain unauthorized access to the email accounts of individuals associated with the Clinton Campaign, including Campaign Manager John Podesta, and stole thousands of emails. In April 2016, the GRU leveraged stolen credentials of some of these individuals to obtain further unauthorized access to the networks of the DNC and DCCC, where it identified and carefully exfiltrated tens of thousands of politically sensitive documents from April through June 2016. The GRU continued to conduct hacking operations to obtain additional material from accounts associated with the Clinton Campaign until at least September 2016.
Those emails were provided to Wikileaks, which were then timed for release for maximum effect.
In the five weeks leading up to the 2016 election, Fox News’ evening shows ran 173 segments about DNC/Podesta email leaks. And it wasn’t just Fox, either. CNN ran 57 segments and MSNBC ran 17. The New York Times published 27 stories during that time span, as well as USA Today (11), The Wall Street Journal (27), and The Washington Post (26).
During the final month of the presidential campaign, Trump himself referenced Wikileaks emails at least 164 times and said the word “Wikileaks” at least 124 times. Though there wasn’t really much of note in the leaked emails themselves, the drip-drip-drip release of them created an air of scandal. Clearly Trump and the Republican Party believed this was important as it became the closing message they rallied around.
Now let me be extremely clear: none of this is to say that Russia’s influence campaign was the reason Clinton lost the election. You don’t need to flood my comments by going, “Oh, so RUSSIA told Hillary not to campaign in Wisconsin???” or whatever. It’s unnecessary and immaterial.
But one trick people like to use when trying to downplay that influence campaign is to pretend that only its least effective elements existed.
Perhaps you’ve seen this image before.
Yep. That’s Buff Bernie. If you find someone online trying to downplay Russia’s influence efforts, you’ll probably find this somewhere within their arguments. For instance…
Maddow Blog @MaddowBlog"U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are assessing whether Russia is trying to undermine Joe Biden in its ongoing disinformation efforts with the former vice president still the front-runner in the race to challenge President Donald Trump..." https://t.co/XUZgWvEjA4
And the thing is: these are not pro-Trump accounts. Anti-anti-Trump is one way to describe them, I suppose (whether being pro-Trump and anti-anti-Trump are all that different… that’s another story). But notice how “Buff Bernie” keeps coming up. Many elements of the influence campaign were hamfisted, but that doesn’t change the fact that at least one portion of them (the hacked DNC and Podesta emails that were distributed by Wikileaks) was successful in capturing the attention of the American political press for weeks on end.
Does the U.S. have a long, long, long, long, long history of similar attempts to affect the outcome of elections in other countries? Yes, absolutely. Does that mean that the people of the U.S. shouldn’t be frustrated/angry/confused/worried/whatever about other countries doing it to us? I don’t think so. The U.S. does a lot of really terrible things in its foreign policy that we wouldn’t be thrilled to have done to us. And while you can debate what actions (if any) should be taken by the U.S. government in response to interference, it shouldn’t be controversial to acknowledge that it happened.
For real, search the word “Russiagate” on Twitter. It still turns up stuff like this from pro-Trump and anti-anti-Trump voices alike:
Chuck Schumer @SenSchumerThe reason Trump is not in office today is because he didn’t receive enough votes to win the election. The people said so. The states said so. The courts said so. The facts said so. The Big Lie is poisoning our democracy. We will act to protect our democracy and voting rights.
Democracy Now! @democracynowWill Attorney General Merrick Garland hold the leaders of the January 6 insurrection accountable? "I want actual evidence that this man is willing to take on the powerful, politically connected Republicans who did this to us," says @TheNation's Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC). https://t.co/MYSIAWTsRk
If you point out that it sure looks like the Russian government hacked and selectively leaked DNC emails to Wikileaks, which was itself in contact with Trump’s campaign in 2016, the general response you’ll get is mockery. If you point out that yes, agreeing to a secret meeting at Trump Tower for dirt on your opponent is an attempt to “collude” with people offering you that dirt, you’ll be treated like a conspiracy theorist.
It doesn’t matter that those are both accurate statements. It doesn’t matter that there’s far, far, far, far more evidence that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election than there is evidence that the 2020 election was somehow rigged against Trump (because there’s zero evidence of the latter). What matters is that these narratives take hold unless you push back against them. After successfully dismissing Russian involvement in the 2016 election by pointing out its most ridiculous elements (see: Buff Bernie), those same people are doing the same with Trump’s 2020 coup attempt. The people who are trying to do that want us all to focus solely on the January 6 storming of the Capitol and not the months-long attempt to overturn the results of the election.
I fear that within a few short years, mentions of January 6 or the Trump coup attempt will be treated as the same type of laugh line that “Russiagate” has become.