Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Donald Chronicles Extra: Missing Links

I knew John Podesta when he was in college.  I knew Sidney Blumenthal when we were both freelance writers for Boston After Dark/The Boston Phoenix.  When I had dinner at John's house in early 2004 I remarked on this from my point of view: two people from parts of my life that did not otherwise overlap had been involved in the Clinton administration.  And I was an unlikely link between them.

Now the two names are being linked again, this time thanks to the Russian government.  (Good thing I didn't have an email address for John after he left the Center for American Progress, or I might be part of their stolen cache.  The letter I sent him late in his tenure at the Obama White House was returned to me, torn and clumsily opened and taped shut, with a terse message stamped on the envelope  indicating that he didn't work there anymore. Not real classy.)

This time another of the deceptively spun stories arising from the Russian dump quotes something Blumenthal (often referred to as a Hillary advisor or confidant) allegedly wrote in an email to Podesta that purports to show that Democrats really knew there was something to all the Republican hoo-haw about Benghazi. It was such dynamite that Donald Trump himself used it as campaign ammunition.

Only two immediate problems with it: 1. The quote lifted out words that distort the point--in other words, that's not what was being said, and 2. it wasn't written by Sidney Blumenthal.

It was lifted from a long piece in Newsweek by one of the magazine's writers, Kurt Eichenwald.  Blumenthal sent along the entire article as an attachment.  The point of the article was that congressional Republicans were engaged in a government-financed political operation, not a substantive investigation.

Eichenwald explains all this in a new article in Newsweek, but he explains quite a bit more.  He says the likely source of the story that this was an isolated quote by Blumenthal was a Russian publication known as part of the government's disinformation network.

As such it is further proof that the Russians are actively injecting themselves into the American election, trying to help Trump get elected.  Further the timing of it might suggest that the Trump campaign was fed the story before others got it.

But perhaps most importantly, it shows either active collusion between Trump and the Russians, or immense stupidity by Trump, or, of course, both.

Apparently as part of his security briefings, Trump has been told of the evidence that the Russians are behind these hacks, though he claims publicly that no one knows, and maybe they aren't hacks at all.

Trump has also been told (Eichenwald writes) of the Russian disinformation program and how it works.  Yet he presented lies created by the Russians as a truthful revelation.

So far none of the "scandals" supposedly revealed by these alleged emails has panned out.  The contact between Clinton's people and the Justice department turned out to be routine and unimportant, and the information was public.  Donna Brazille didn't give Clinton a debate question in advance, the email wasn't even about debate questions.

But this particular item is a bit more than a mischaracterization (sloppy or intentional)---it's a lie all the way through, and it forms a straight line (though perhaps with two-way traffic) between Russian disinformation and the Trump campaign, including Trump himself.

So now the smoking gun's on the other foot, so to speak.  And John and Sid have something else in common.

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