Summary: Stories about the Trump-Russia scandal continue to roil the media. It might dominate the vital start of the Trump administration. Even if it does not, these events are rich with lessons about hidden aspects of America’s politics. Here is an expert’s analysis, a follow-up to Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.
The story of the Trump-Russia file is among the most significant news of 2017. Not because it is yet another disreputable story about Trump (credulously believed by the Left). Not because of its salacious details (which so excite the Left). The involvement of US intelligence agencies makes it important. We can only guess at their motives for publicizing this unverified information. They move like the sandworms in Dune, giant beasts visible only by their wake on the surface.
As usual with scandals (real or imagined), the British press have covered this more closely than their US cousins. Mostly by speculation, but the better elements have presented intriguing analysis. Such as this in yesterday’s London Review of Books: “How to Read the Trump Dossier” by Arthur Snell — a veteran of the UK Foreign Office, now a managing director of corporate intelligence firm PGI Intelligence. This provides the strongest case I have seen for taking the Trump-Russia file seriously. It goes off the rails at the beginning.
“None of the claims made in the dossier has yet been verified, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. Intelligence is information, from a privileged source, that supports decision-making. It is seldom verifiable because that information is rarely in the public domain.”
Why should we take this file seriously if it has no verification? Here is the closest Snell gets to an answer. It’s quite daft.
“The reader of the intelligence report has to trust the provider of the intelligence while remaining critical. Intelligence is about degrees of credibility, and reading it is not the same as reading reportage, or a piece of political analysis. In order to make an assessment of its reliability, a reader needs to examine how it’s been sourced, insofar as that’s possible. A large number of news media organisations have reported that the dossier is the work of Christopher Steele of Orbis Business Intelligence, a British corporate intelligence consultancy. Steele’s background in government service, including a stint in Moscow, is not in doubt, and the format of the reports in the Trump dossier is the same as that used by most Western intelligence agencies.”
This is quite weak. We should take the Trump-Russia file seriously because it is the “work” of a former SIS (aka MI6) employee. We should be weight “former” more strongly than “SIS”. The format of the report tells us nothing (a well constructed lie includes these kind of trivial specifics).
The rest of the article is even less logical, consisting of a category error. Snell describes the alleged sources of the Trump-Russia file as the actual sources. These claims are hearsay — somebody telling us what other people said. Why believe Snell’s analysis of the files until we have at least some evidence that their contents are from the claimed sources.
This would be weak even if we could question Steele, which we cannot (he is hiding). At the end Snell wrecks his theory. Despite US intelligence agencies having the files for five months, they presented it with no results of their investigation into its accuracy. Yet hours later a significant element was decisively disproven, along with denials by other named individuals and organizations denied involvement.
“One report, possibly based on a statement by an associate of the Kremlin’s former chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, alleges that Michael Cohen, a high-profile lawyer working for Trump, met Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 to discuss making ‘deniable cash payments … to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign’. This allegation has been widely discredited, not least by Cohen himself, who has stated that he was in California at the time – this has been confirmed by witnesses at the University of Southern California, where Cohen was attending a baseball game with his son.
“The reporting on Cohen is flawed at best, though the dossier’s author does seem to have received the intelligence from two separate sources, at different times, and to have produced at least three separate reports on the subject. This may be evidence of a Russian misinformation campaign – both sources are described as Kremlin insiders – but elements of the reports can be checked. A man called Oleg Solodukhin is claimed to have been one of the key organisers of the meetings. Solodukhin is a Russian official based in Prague in a quasi-diplomatic role. ‘No such meeting took place,’ he has claimed in interviews with Czech media. In one of the Cohen reports there is a reference to a company called XBT/Webzilla that allegedly engaged in hacking against the Democratic Party leadership. XBT’s CEO, Aleksej Gubarev, has denied the allegations in interviews and the report itself offers nothing in the way of corroboration …”
Snell’s article looks like skillfully written propaganda. Why has Snell written it? Does he have knowledge about its validity that he cannot share, and so indirectly warns us of Russian influence on Trump? Or does he support elements of the US “Deep State” who see Trump as a threat (despite the blue-chip establishment credentials of his appointees)? American’s answers tend to such questions tend to depend on their political tribe.
Both answers imply serious problems lie ahead for America. Watch this story for clues, but we might never learn the truth.
For More Information
Other useful articles about the Trump-Russia file.
- See Masha Gessen’s devastating analysis of the IC’s report about Russian interference in the US election, relying on weak or fake evidence to draw dubious conclusions: “Russia, Trump & Flawed Intelligence“.
- As a reminder, here is a big list of US government officials’ past lies about vital matters.
- Good advice by the team at Lawfare: “About that Explosive Trump Story: Take a Deep Breath“.
- Glenn Greenwald goes to the heart of the issue: “The Deep State Goes to War with President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer“.
- David French at National Review gives a fair summary.
- A shrewd debunking: “The Trump Dossier Is Fake — And Here Are The Reasons Why” by Paul Roderick Gregory at Forbes.
- Let’s stop the 2-minute hate on Putin & think before we reignite the Cold War.
- How the world looks from Russia. It’s a picture the US media don’t show.
- Notes from the Victory Parade in Moscow about our amnesia, & peace.
- Did NATO betray Russia, breaking the deal to stay out of Eastern Europe?
- Is Trump a tool of Putin? See the story & the debunking.
- Learning from the Cold War to prevent war with Russia today.
Two good books about Putin’s Russia.