Unconfirmed revelations from Christopher Steele, Britain's highly respected former top MI6 spy in Russia, shed new light on Putin's campaign to take out Hillary Clinton. If reports are true, the Kremlin and Trump's team conspired to help both Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein in their efforts to defeat her.
In the spring of 2016, social media on the left was so consumed with anti-Clinton vitriol that it became difficult for her supporters to speak out.
Earlier in the campaign, supporters of each candidate diverged in a more benign dispute over policy and candidate appeal. Clinton was seen as a status quo candidate, while Sanders offered a frisson of excitement.
But then things changed. The negativity built and built, eventually rising to a crescendo. Something indefinable shifted, and something that felt like hate entered the campaign, and never left it. Many, if not most, of Hillary's millions and millions of supporters kept quiet, avoiding confrontation.
There were two main reasons for their relative silence:
- It felt risky. It was obvious that publicly and strongly supporting Clinton could result in immediate attack and possibly retaliation on social media. This especially affected women, who have learned to fear social media;
- Clinton supporters knew that to engage with Sanders supporters while emotions ran so high risked alienating them during the general election.
All this had the effect of muting her supporters, while the clamour against her rose to near hysteria. “She’s going to be INDICTED!” screeched Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat.
It was so unhinged that even during Clinton's historic nomination speech, a yelling chorus of opposition literally tried to drown out her speech and shout her down from the floor of the Democratic convention.
Christopher Steele's now infamous intelligence dossier may offer fresh insights into the genesis of the almost frenzied attacks on Clinton from the left.
The report has not been independently verified, and Steele has gone into hiding. Many of the factual claims in the report are in question and must be read with caution and skepticism. However, given Steele's exceptional credibility, its claims are worth examining in the context of known facts.
Dossier alleges Russia, Wikileaks and Trump campaign coordinated to help Sanders
The dossier alleges extensive active co-ordination between Russia and the Trump team, and suggests that much of the anti-Clinton rhetoric from the left was deliberately orchestrated by Russia and Trump's team to harm her campaign.
The dossier reports that "the aim of leaking the DNC emails to Wikileaks during the Democratic Convention had been to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump."
What is not in doubt is that the Russian hacking/Wikileaks affair was in many ways a classic propaganda campaign. It successfully discredited Clinton and especially sowed doubt about her honesty and integrity among traditional Democratic supporters.
That Wikileaks didn't leak a thing from Clinton herself, but only the fairly uneventful inside chatter of John Podesta and the party, shows the striking power of propaganda on any audience.
As a former KGB operative, Putin is intimately familiar with the tried and true effectiveness of these techniques.
If true, the Steele dossier brings more clarity to some of the murkier edges of the campaign. To an unknown extent, it suggests that Jill Stein, probably unwittingly, was pulled into Putin’s orbit as part of anti-Clinton pro-Trump plan.
Kremlin used Stein in campaign
For months observers have been mystified by Stein's Moscow appearance at an RT gala last winter, where she was photographed at the head table with Vladimir Putin and Mike Flynn.
According to the dossier's unverified conclusions, the Kremlin, in pursuit of its objective to influence the election: "support(ed) various US political figures, including funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow. (The source) named a delegation from Lyndon Larouche: ...Jill Stein, Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, and (Trump national security advisor) Mike Flynn, in this regard and as successful in terms of perceived outcomes." (I've added emphasis here)
How far Putin used Stein's candidacy as a propaganda tool against Clinton is not known. But the Steele dossier does suggest she was part of his plans.
One intriguing feature of the election fallout is the near total silence of Bernie Sanders on the topic of Russian hacks. In light of the Kremlin's alleged pro-Sanders strategy (as a means of supporting Trump), the senator from Vermont seems a little like the dog that wouldn't bark in the night.
Indeed, rather than attack Trump's legitimacy as president, Sanders seems to underline it by pointing to Clinton's defeat as a kind of vindication for his own views.
That's a fair enough position as far as it goes, although Clinton's 2.1 per cent margin of victory in the popular vote somewhat undermines that conclusion.
What's a little more troubling is the CV of his chief strategist, Tad Devine. It turns out that Devine worked as an advisor for Vladimir Putin's man in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovich in 2006, and then for his 2010 election campaign. By curious coincidence another American had very close ties to Yanukovich during this exact period.
That would be Paul Manafort, Trump's one-time campaign manager.
Manafort is implicated by a host of suspicious circumstances, including the secret ledger in Ukraine detailing millions of dollars in undisclosed cash payments. Although all information is unverified, the Steele dossier identifies Manafort directly as a point person in the "well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between (the Trump campaign) and the Russian leadership."
In the political world, a lot of people know a lot of people. Nothing suggests that Tad Devine knew anything about this at the time. But given his previous work with a Putin puppet (Yanukovich) and apparently Manafort, as well, it would be helpful to know, in hindsight, what light Devine can shed on these events.
Yet given what's at stake, for health care, climate change, voting rights, the Supreme Court and any number of issues, Sanders' failure to seriously challenge Trump's legitimacy is one of the striking mysteries of this election fallout.
At a time when civil rights hero John Lewis is openly challenging a man who cheated his way into the White House, Bernie Sanders seems to have spent more energy attacking Democrats.
To what purpose?
Russian interference decided the election
One thing is certain, it's impossible to overstate the impact of Russia's interference in the election, which was decisive. People, especially Democrats, should dispense with the mantra that it had no effect.
Average voters aren't news junkies like you. Most people have no idea of the difference between Wikileaks and the FBI investigation into Clinton emails.
For the average voter, Wikileaks and Comey were two sides of one coin: Emails. Which became shorthand for "Hillary lies." When Comey's letter came, it electrified the election because the public had already been primed to distrust Clinton by Wikileaks.
Trump knew it. He pounded the Wikileaks drum relentlessly, mentioning them a total of 164 times in the last month of the campaign alone. Half the time he did it on free national television coverage as his speeches were broadcast live.
The media danced so hard to Putin's tune you could write a Broadway musical just from the headlines.
It was because of the relentless pounding of the Wikileaks stories that Comey's letter nailed the Clinton coffin shut. (Comey himself is now under investigation.)
Data trackers Echelon Insights reports that, with 33 million mentions, the Wikileaks hacking stories were by far the most talked-about election issue on Twitter, closely followed by Clinton's email (Comey). Together they combined for an astonishing 54 million mentions — about 10 times the impact of the Access Hollywood tapes.
So what remains today is the suggestion, through this mysterious document, that the Kremlin and Trump campaign sought to benefit themselves by supporting Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein. There's no evidence that either knew about this plot, if it existed.
All of it worked, and it worked on the left as well as the right. All of it damaged trust in Clinton. Having maintained approval ratings well over 50% for 15 straight years, over the course of the campaign Clinton's positives plummeted into the 30's almost overnight.
The single most damaging narrative, that Clinton was untruthful and untrustworthy, only got traction when Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin, intervened to help Sanders, Stein, and ultimately Donald Trump.
If the Steele memo is to be believed, a very great deal of the pro-Stein and Sanders, anti-Hillary Clinton rhetoric was a Russian propaganda op. It certainly silenced and intimidated a great many of Hillary's supporters who deeply wanted to cheer for her unabashedly and without reservation.
That gap gave doubt an open runway.
In the end, the election turned on about 100,000 votes in three states. That's .07 per cent of the electorate, while Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. By any objective standard, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence suggests that Americans were deprived of the president they chose because of Russian interference.
Putin "hated and feared" Clinton
The propaganda effect continues today. Despite having the most popular outgoing president in recent history, Democrats are so demoralized by internal divisions that they haven't been able to mount a serious challenge to Trump, whose legitimacy is surely poisoned. They should flat out repudiate his inauguration. Until he is cleared by an independent investigation, Trump's victory is no more legitimate than an ill-begotten Russian Olympic gold medal.
This scandalous conspiracy cannot be rewarded by handing him control of all the levers of power that assert the rule of law in America.
I would add one final note, perhaps the most important sentence in Christopher Steele's entire dossier.
In describing the coordinated plotting between the Kremlin and Trump campaign, one of Steele's sources said: "the two sides had a mutual interest in defeating... Hillary Clinton, whom President Putin apparently both hated and feared." (Emphasis added)
At this moment in history, the United States deserves a president that Vladimir Putin is actually afraid of, instead of the reverse.
Editor's Note: The story was revised at 2 p.m. E.T. on Mon. Jan. 16, 2016 to clarify that highlights in embedded photos were added by National Observer.