Lost in all of the news surrounding James Comey vs. Donald Trump is the underlying reason for why we’re talking about all the news. That’s the attempts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
What bothers me is that after all this time and all of the sniping going back and forth, people are losing sight of the bigger picture. Former FBI Director James Comey testified on March 20th of this year:
I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed. Because it is an open, ongoing investigation, and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining.
It is a serious issue and some people are reacting in ways that run counter to the very real concerns some people have with Donald Trump and his administration. For example, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist tweeted the following yesterday:
we've moved pretty far away from months-long media hysteria that Trump is a Putin plant.
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) June 9, 2017
Trump's crime was winning an election. A lot of drama due to some people's refusal to accept this fact.
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) June 9, 2017
It's just so hard to have a reasonable discussion of his many weaknesses when it begins with a 24-7 media narrative of "TRAITOR!"
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) June 9, 2017
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mollie and her husband, Mark. Several months ago when I appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” she was encouraging to me and gave me unsolicited (and welcome) advice about being on television. She’s a welcome voice for media criticism. That said, I take issue with what she says here because she’s casting a wide net with her statements and by doing that, it doesn’t allow the reasonable discussion she says is difficult to have.
Many people have legitimate concerns about Trump and his administration beyond his glaring weaknesses. Take a step back to 2016 when Donald Trump, despite being presented with plenty of evidence Russia was meddling in our election, consistently denied it happened (while at the same time cheering on Wikileaks). Even after Trump was elected, he continued to deny the obvious. A story broke in the December 9 Washington Post revealing the CIA concluded Russia intervened in the election and wanted Trump to win. Two days later during an interview with Fox News, Trump said the following about the WaPo report:
“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. I don’t know why, and I think it’s just — you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week, it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the electoral college. I guess the final numbers are now at 306. She’s down to a very low number. No, I don’t believe that at all.”
On January 6, 2017, the Director of National Intelligence released a report confirming the CIA, NSA, and FBI all agreed Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. The report stated:
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.
Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.
Further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.
In fairness to Mollie, there are media outlets and Democrats who believe Trump is a Putin plant, cannot accept that he won, and do think he’s a traitor. Dan McLaughlin (aka Baseball Crank), formerly of RedState has an excellent piece where he details the liberal media outlets and Democrats who’ve said Trump is personally under investigation. These outlets and politicians do cloud the issue. Of course, it wasn’t up to James Comey to rebut what was a political issue, not a legal issue and it was ridiculous for the president to try and coerce Comey into acting as his public relations liaison.
As far as the “media” is concerned, there are conservative media outlets and writers who are critical of Trump, including yours truly. Does Mollie include me in her assessment? What about the others at RedState who hold views similar to my own? How about Jonah Goldberg, Charles C.W. Cooke, Kevin Williamson and David French at National Review? Bill Kristol? Erick Erickson? Tom Nichols? I can’t recall any of them calling Trump a traitor, not accepting he won the election or concluding he’s a Putin plant.
Mainstream media sources such as The Washinton Post, The NY Times and others have certainly made mistakes and they are ripe for criticism when they jump the gun and get stories wrong. But a lot of their reporting is correct and complaining they weren’t as diligent covering the Obama administration doesn’t change what the Trump administration does. It is one thing to provide examples of media malfeasance that took place in the past for context, but not as a reason to excuse Trump.
At this point, the only one engaging in spreading conspiracy theories is President Donald Trump. It is one thing for Hillary Clinton to blame Russia for her loss. I take exception to that, as she only has herself to blame. The problem is Trump accuses Democrats of making up the Russian interference. Look at these tweets:
The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story – RUSSIA. Fake news!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2017
Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017
Just watched the totally biased and fake news reports of the so-called Russia story on NBC and ABC. Such dishonesty!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2017
…money to Bill, the Hillary Russian "reset," praise of Russia by Hillary, or Podesta Russian Company. Trump Russia story is a hoax. #MAGA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2017
Made up. Fake news. A hoax.
“The Russia story is a faux story. And it started, really, before the election was over, before November 8th. And it was at a very low level, and it never picked up any steam until after the election because the Democrats are using that faux — or fake — Russia story in order to make themselves feel better for losing an election that’s very hard for a Democrat to lose.
“It’s impossible for Republican to win. And not only did I won I won easily. So they made up this Russia thing to try and deflect because they’re embarrassed by what happened. The Russia is a phony — what do you see is the Russia story? The Russia story. And you see all of these other phony stories.”
It is Donald Trump fueling the stories with his inability to control himself. He is the one engaging in a conspiracy theory. He denies what is real. Similar to what he did with a former President and his birth certificate several years ago.
So if people are to have constructive discussions about Trump, they have to come from a POV knowing most of his troubles are self-inflicted wounds and not the fault of the media.