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Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)

Opportunistic foreign intervention into domestic democratic processes: it happens.

I’m reading Sterling Seagrave’s epic account of the Philippines under Marcos, The Marcos Dynasty, and just happen to be at the part where Edward Lansdale and the CIA are painstakingly molding Ramon Magsaysay into the magnificent vessel that will contain American aspirations in the Philippines.  Lansdale did everything but tie Magsaysay’s shoes.  Then Magsaysay died in a plane crash and it was time for rinse-and-repeat with Ferdinand Marcos.

Democracies, for all their virtues, are especially vulnerable to manipulation during election season, when pols need money, good press, and, sometimes impunity.  You don’t get those quadrennial opportunities when wrassling with a dictator-for-life. I suspect that’s one reason why the United States, George Soros, et. al. are so keen on promoting democracy overseas.  The process creates an attractive portfolio of weak, venal, and competing clients.

Tempting to exploit that.  Especially for Putin since it’s been bruited about that his bete noire, cookie merchant Victoria Nuland, will be running the State Department if Clinton wins the presidency.

So I’m not averse to the theory that Vladimir Putin is behind the Wikileaks DNC leak.

Putin probably doesn’t consider himself the first offender when it comes to leaking embarrassing and destabilizing info.

He believes that the Panama Papers dump—sluiced by a noble anonymous hacker into that responsible Western whistleblowing conduit, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, for loving curation by mainstream journos, instead of transomed into the hands of that irresponsible and oh-so-interesting gotta-dump-it-all Wikileaks anti-American cowboy channel—was part of an effort to target him.

I think Panama Papers was a US-orchestrated inflection point in the American campaign to destroy international bank secrecy, but whatever.  Plenty of anti-Putin hay was made out of the leak.

More to the point is this report on statements by Senator Bob Corker via Radio Free Europe, natch!

A senior U.S. lawmaker says revelations about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wealth will be “destabilizing” to his rule as the Russian population becomes increasingly aware of them.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Voice Of America on February 1 that the Russian people “are beginning to realize they have a leader that amassed tremendous personal wealth.”

Corker said that revelation was “going to create some additional instability in Russia.”

Corker’s remarks come in the midst of a diplomatic dispute between Washington and Moscow over a BBC interview given last week by Adam Szubin, the U.S. Treasury’s acting secretary for terrorism and financial crimes.

Szubin told the BBC that Putin was “a picture of corruption,” and the White House later said that his remarks reflected the views of the Obama administration about Putin.

The Kremlin reacted angrily to the interview and Earnest’s statement, calling it “outrageous and insulting.”

Szubin declined to comment on a 2007 CIA report estimating Putin’s wealth at $40 billion.

Both Russian and Western media outlets during the past year have reported previously undisclosed details about the affluent, well-connected lives led by Putin’s two daughters.

Putin’s younger daughter, according to Reuters, also has identified herself as a “spouse” of Kirill Shamalov, the son of wealthy Putin associate Nikolai Shamalov.

The couple is thought to have corporate holdings worth about $2 billion.

Treasury’s “terrorism and financial crimes” operation is in the business of hoovering up financial information by any and all means on America’s enemies, especially by compromising the confidentiality of banks doing sanctions-busting business with Iran.  Undoubtedly, it has acquired a nice thick Putin folder thanks to various savory and unsavory ops, and dropping that file is a threat they like to brandish before Putin.

So, no question Putin coulda done DNCleaks and not lost any sleep over it.

But did he?

Maybe we’ll never know.

I’ve written before on the attribution circus: how it’s necessary to sculpt an incriminating dossier even when all you’ve got is ambiguity and circumstantial evidence, because America can’t have foreigners hacking the bejeezus out its servers and then saying, Well, looks like X but…can’t really say for sure.

Instead, we get cybersecurity companies massaging assumptions and cherrypicking data—and downplaying indications that US government hacking tools have been turned against us– so they can say “we believe” in an impressively scientific manner.  This conclusion is fed to the media machine and eventually emerges from the journalistic nether parts as “X did it.”

Or, Clinton campaign manager: Russians leaked Democrats’ emails to help Donald Trump.

Did Putin orchestrate DNCleaks?  Maybe, maybe not.  Coulda been the FSB team.  Coulda been China.  Coulda been Anonymous.  Doesn’t matter too much in my opinion.  The dirt was left lying there for somebody to scoop up.

One thing for sure is that the Clinton campaign is desperate to find a bigger villain to shift the focus away from the DNC’s abysmal security practices and sleazy electioneering revealed by the leak.

Cue Trumputin!

Aside from the possibility that Putin passed the DNC trove to Julian Assange to embarrass and discommode Hillary Clinton, I’m considerably more skeptical about the “Donald Trump is Putin’s agent” story that’s been burning up the Internet.

Trump doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy that could be run safely and reliably as a foreign agent, either directly or through a cut-out like Paul Manafort.  I suspect the US government has a huge embarrassing file on Manafort thanks to his relationship with Dimitry Firtash, the gas industry fixer who was Russia’s main man in Ukraine, but I’m wondering if unpacking Manafort’s and Trump’s interests in Eastern Europe will reveal more than a lust for oligarch cash and the first-hand perspective that the US/NATO anti-Russia policy orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland is a dead-end sh*t show.

To me, the most interesting perspective on the allegations of perfidious Russian involvement in the Trump campaign is the effort to gin up an outsized moral panic around the prospect of the Trump presidency.

He’s a grifter and a scammer who probably expects to lose the election and milk his followers for a few more millions over the next decade via a cheesy post-Fox media/political conglomerate.

Trump, I think, would make a terrible president.  But a terrible president whose best as well as worst impulses would be swiftly neutralized by threats of resignation/insubordination/impeachment/mutiny by the Beltway pros if he really tried to color outside the lines.

I don’t think he’s a fascist with the energy or inclination to seize state power as leader of a racist mass movement with paramilitary power employing riot, murder, insurrection, and genocide to achieve its ambitions.

Is anti-Trump hysteria just part of the electoral race to the bottom, the need to make him appear even less attractive than Hillary?

Or is it…something more?

At this point, everybody pause for a moment and put on their tin-foil hats.

OK…everybody ready?  Good.

Here’s my take on the whole megillah.

The Clinton campaign is in a quiet panic that the notorious e-mail server in Hillary Clinton’s basement got hacked and the 33,000 e-mails were exfiltrated for release at the worst possible moment during the election.  Like maybe during the convention in Philadelphia.

The possibility that the leak is coming has been a staple of right-wing sites for weeks if not months.

If the 33,000 deleted e-mails are just yoga appointments and instructions to florists, it’ll be bad but not fatal.

If they reveal embarrassing political and media canoodling, worse, politically survivable, but electoral poison.

If it turns out that there was official business discussed in some e-mails and Clinton’s lawyers deleted them instead of turning them over to the State Department, I think it’s Hello, President Trump.

If the deleted mails contained classified info, then it’s lights out.  Democrats push her to withdraw from the race soon enough so that nice Mr. Kaine can carry the ticket, and Clinton spends the next few years in court.

Nobody knows what could come out, I think.  If there were some skeletons in the e-mail server, only Hillary Clinton and her closest associates know.  For everybody else, it’s pucker up, hope for the best, and expect the worst.

All they know is, any leak of e-mails from the Clinton server is bad.  What to do?  What to do?  What’s the plan?  How does the campaign inoculate against such a potentially devastating development?

How about a major redirect, one that turns any leak into evidence of Putin perfidy?  Aha!

Here’s how I think it works.

First, harden the narrative that Putin is backing Trump.  Time to reach out to prestige media!

Instantaneously and simultaneously, serious chin-stroking erupts in the liberal commentariat concerning the seemingly unhealthy relationship between Putin and Trump.

Carrying the flag are Franklin Foer (New Republic: Putin’s Puppet), Paul Krugman (New York Times: Donald Trump: The Siberian Candidate), Jonathan Chait (New York Magazine: Is Donald Trump Working for Russia?), Daniel Drezner (Washington Post: Is Donald Trump a Putin Patsy?)

Jeffrey Goldberg does the Clinton campaign a solid over at the Atlantic with It’s Official: Hillary Clinton is Running Against Vladimir Putin.

Over in digital media, Talking Points Memo has been pushing the story relentlessly.  Most recent iteration: It Can’t Be Dismissed.

What’s interesting to me is that none of these pieces offer conclusive evidence.  We are in the zone of those two glorious media and rhetorical exemplars, Peggy Noonan and Donald Rumsfeld.

As in:

Is it irresponsible to speculate?  It would be irresponsible not to.

Peggy Noonan, on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, as to whether Fidel Castro used incriminating phone-sex recordings to blackmail President Bill Clinton into returning miracle dolphin lad Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Donald Rumsfeld, on why we shouldn’t worry that UN inspectors found no WMD in Iraq pre-invasion.

What is most amusing, profiles-of-courage wise is that both Drezner and Marshall are hedging their bets (or covering their asses) in case the story doesn’t pan out in the body, while pushing the theory in the headline of their articles.

Anyway, Trumputin now part of the zeitgeist and the Clinton campaign has done the best it can to prepare for a leak to drop during convention primetime.

What happens next?  The leak drops at convention time.  Not the server leak.  The DNC leak.

What the heck.  Let’s go.  Time for Stage 2, Baking in the Narrative.

The Clinton campaign has a ready-made response: Putin dunnit.  Because Trump is Putin’s candidate.  As we all know.

Therefore, true significance of these leaks is that Vladimir Putin is trying to elect Donald Trump president of the United States.

Even though, if Putin has the contents of the e-mail server, he’s got an extremely worrisome hold over Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump.

But isn’t it a matter of patriotism to make sure that Trump can’t profit from Russian intervention?

If Russian leaks threaten to knock Hillary Clinton flat, how should the patriotic journo respond?

Maybe it means Donald Trump has to be knocked even flatter, in compensation.  By any means necessary.  To save democracy.

Media, you’ve been tasked.

More articles by:

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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