Why are we still talking about Russia?
And why were we ever discussing it in the first place?
Those are questions that everyone should be asking as the American people weigh what they are now being told by FBI Director James Comey at the House Select Committee on Intelligence, that there is an ongoing investigation into Russia for supposedly hacking the DNC and John Podesta emails and giving them to Wikileaks, and into the 2016 Trump campaign for allegedly participating in that endeavor.
What has been gained by these public disclosures so far, which to date have produced zero prosecutions? How has this made us safer?
Let’s assume for a moment that the intelligence community, which loathes to disclose sources and methods, will never actually attempt to prove publicly that Russia was behind the disclosure of emails on Wikileaks, which Wikileaks has repeatedly denied.
Nor will it ever publish any dissenting views from within the community alongside its confident proclamations to date on these matters.
Let’s also assume that no Trump campaign officials or President Donald Trump himself will ever be indicted for colluding with the Russians on said alleged hacking because there simply is no evidence. Both the House and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairmen keep saying that to date there is no evidence of collusion by any Trump campaign officials acting as foreign agents.
Then, what was the purpose of disclosing publicly the investigations into these matters? What has been gained, and at what cost?
For example, what national interest was advanced at the end of 2016 by the allegation by the Obama administration that the Russian government preferred Trump over Clinton in the election and engaged in the hacking to achieve that outcome? How was that helpful?
Certainly, the costs are easy enough to see.
As a result, millions of Americans have lost faith in our electoral institutions, even though, as officials have repeatedly noted, no foreign power including Russia actually affected vote tallies in any way.
The government’s rollout of this nonsense, both publicly and via anonymously sourced media reports, has amplified the widespread perception that Russia literally stuffed the ballots to help Trump.
In the process, the peaceful transfer of power was absolutely undermined by the outgoing Obama administration — by raising a cloud of unproven suspicion around the new Trump administration.
Millions of Americans have also lost faith in the intelligence community and FBI not to behave politically, particularly given that media outlets have been reporting for months the details of what FBI Director James Comey only admitted to yesterday, which is that there are ongoing investigations into these matters.
The leaks themselves appeared to have been initiated by government officials who believed that reporting the investigations would harm the Trump administration, to make it appear that President Donald Trump is somehow a Russian agent, an allegation for which no evidence has been produced.
In both instances, the legitimacy of the government itself, in perhaps most Americans’ minds — although for differing reasons — has been eroded. This is incredibly destabilizing.
Good job, Obama.
It appears that the prospects of cooling U.S.-Russian relations in hotspots like Ukraine and Syria have been diminished dramatically if not destroyed by the disclosures, arguably making escalation of tensions more likely between the two nuclear powers.
Now, it is politically much riskier for President Trump to engage in any major initiatives with Moscow, even ones that might benefit the U.S., for example, in the issues of deterring nuclear arms proliferation throughout the world.
Achieving Russian cooperation on issues like Iran or North Korea now appears much less likely. Diplomatic solutions being less likely, then war becomes more likely in these theaters.
Overall, strategic arms reductions — long-standing policy subject to treaties between the U.S. and Russia — now appear much less likely.
In short, any potential deal or any overtures whatsoever, even those that would be in U.S. interests, must now be weighed against the cost of appearing to be a quid pro quo — undermining the durability of any such deal. Building trust is almost impossible now.
This is a diplomatic catastrophe, but will anyone admit it?
That breakdown of relations will surely spill over into future administrations, including the next Democratic White House, particularly if the conventional wisdom within that party remains that Russia was interfering in U.S. elections to help Republicans.
In other words, the ability of the current president, and future presidents, to engage in foreign affairs and diplomacy has been undermined. The office of the president is less powerful than it was prior to broadcasting this conspiracy theory to the world.
In the meantime, the reputations of Mike Flynn, Carter Page and Paul Manafort — all fired by Trump at some point following media reports speculating on possible Russian ties or being agents of Moscow — have all arguably been destroyed even though no case was ever brought by the government charging these men with any espionage to do with the hacking or anything else.
Assuming that no case will ever brought in a court of law on the question of collusion with Russia on the hacking and Wikileaks, one must question how the American people have possibly benefited by this whole ordeal. Without a prosecution or public proving of the hacking, what the hell have the FBI and the intelligence community even been up to for the past year?
These are legitimate questions. If such a massive investigation turns up nothing, and no evidence will be produced publicly, only allegations, what else can this all be called but a witch hunt?
Unfortunately, this in turn creates adverse pressure that should not be underestimated at the FBI — and among Democrats frankly with an obvious political interest — to produce a politically charged indictment if for no other reason than to simply justify and legitimize its own ongoing investigations. Whoever is indicted in the current climate will be guilty until proven innocent.
Meaning, no matter how these investigations turn out, the FBI is losing legitimacy as a neutral party.
All of which calls into question the utility of disclosing the assessments by the intelligence community of supposed Russian interference into the election — which we’re all apparently supposed to repeat as a profession of faith — first in October 2016 and then again in January, which could have only been approved by former President Barack Obama.
Thanks to these frankly very thin reports, plus media reports revealing classified information on the investigations into these matters, and now Comey confirming those investigations, all we appear to have produced is a national witch hunt, a new red scare — which is making us less safe — for something the U.S. government may never even be able to prove publicly.
If Russia’s supposed goal of the alleged, still unproven DNC-Podesta hacking was to undermine faith in our institutions, it would appear the government’s reaction to Wikileaks has been much worse and done far more damage than anything Russia might have achieved on its own.
Again, how is this Russia dragnet making us any safer? What has been gained?