Sunday, April 14, 2019

What DID Russia Actually Do?

Andrew McCarthy, writing in the National Review about the recent indictment of Julian Assange in relation to then-Bradley/now-Chelsea Manning's 2010 theft and dissemination of classified military secrets, asks a salient question: Why was Assange not also charged in relation to Robert Mueller's indictments of various Russian citizens and presumptive government agents for "meddling" in the 2016 Presidential election?

This is a relevant question. Presumably, Assange is one of the un-named (and unindicted) co-conspirators referenced in Mueller's 13 July 2018 indictment of several Russian intelligence operatives for hacking into the Democratic  National Committee's computers and stealing several gigabytes worth of material. It necessarily follows that any evidence against the Russians must also be evidence against Assange.  Yet Assange was not indicted last year and he is not indicted now for anything in connection to the presumptive hack of the DNC systems.

As McCarthy puts so succinctly, "what is going on here?"

I invite people to read his full column delving into that very question. It highlights several legal and factual deficiencies of the recent Assange indictment, as well as the fundamental weakness of Mueller's Russia indictments.  Indictments that do not withstand even passing scrutiny are surely among the worst prosecutorial abuses; even the imputation that either the Assange indictment or Mueller's Russia indictments are little more than a thin tissue of legal fantasy is a damning criticism of the ethics and probity of the Department of Justice.

However, behind McCarthy's perceptive inquiry lies a broader, and in some ways more frightening question: What did Russia actually do? Did Russia even interfere with the 2016 election?

I have asked this question before--right after Mueller released his second round of Russia indictments. A claim of Russian interference in American elections is a serious claim, a troubling claim, but it must be a claim of fact to be worthy of any consideration at all.  Yet, as a claim of fact, the "Russia meddled" claim is largely fact free. To reiterate:
  • The Facebook ads presumably purchased by the Russian troll farm The Internet Research Agency were, upon closer inspection, contradictory and confusing, attacking Hillary Clinton, her 2016 primary rival Bernie Sanders, and even Donald Trump. A large portion of them appear to have been in Russian, further questioning their utility as campaign material.
  • Mueller's indictment of Russian operatives advances a theory of the DNC hacking case that is the polar opposite of conclusions reached by the FBI and by cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike. In particular, the online persona Guccifer 2.0 is central to Mueller's theory of the hacking case while dismissed as tangential or even irrelevant in the Crowdstrike and FBI analyses (and Guccifer was the person presumably with whom Assange communicated to encourage further hackings and disclosures of Hillary Clinton-related material).
  • One of Mueller's initial Russia indictments was of a company that quite literally did not exist at the time the presumed offenses were committed.
What was true in July of 2018 remains true today: we have no facts before us to sustain the charge that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.  This has always been the reality of the "Russia Collusion"/"Russia Hacking" narrative -- we do not have any actual facts to support the narrative.

We should also remember that we have never had any presentation of facts to support the narrative. Even the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment was remarkable for its complete lack of any evidentiary support or even logical cohesion.  In the aftermath of Mueller closing down his two-year investigation with precisely zero indictments for any form of collusion or conspiracy with Russia by any Trump campaign staff or affiliates, the "Russia Collusion" narrative has been well and truly debunked and discredited; it is the epitome of "Fake News."

If the ICA was "Fake News", if the "Russia Collusion" narrative is "Fake News", on what basis can we know that Russia did anything improper in the 2016 election?

Putin's Russia is a thuggish autocratic kleptocracy. It is no leap of faith to state that Russia is certainly capable of seeking to upend the liberal democratic order within Western democracies.  Russia certainly could interfere in elections, and may very well be highly motivated to do so.

But the belief that they could interfere is not proof that they did--and after three years of investigations by both Congress and the FBI, we do not have any evidence that they did. Without evidence, any narrative of Russia interfering in US elections is just another conspiracy theory. Without evidence, that narrative is not a serious political discussion on any level.

Without evidence, the breathless charges by the legacy media that President Trump is threatening the nation's security by not blithely believing the intelligence community about foreign affairs are vacuous and vapid political panderings. No one's asserted expertise in any field counts as evidence for or against any proposition. Expertise allows one to offer insights into evidence, but it cannot take the place of evidence and it cannot create evidence where none exists.

Where there is no evidence, we cannot logically make any conclusions, and all that is left is seductive speculation. In the case of Russia and the 2016 election, we still have no evidence, we still have no answers, we only have more questions, combining and coalescing into a seductive speculation.

What did Russia actually do during the 2016 election? Quite simply--and disturbingly--we do not actually know.

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