Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen is increasingly alarmed that, as Washington and Moscow drift toward military conflict, the US political-media establishment remains obsessed with “Russiagate”—allegations that Russian President Putin ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to abet Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and that Trump’s associates, possibly the new president himself, “colluded” in this “hijacking of American democracy.” No actual evidence has ever been made public regarding either the purported hacking or the collusion.
Indeed, the entire “Russiagate” saga and its ongoing “investigations” have from the outset rested on one foundational allegation: that “all 17 US intelligence agencies agreed” that Putin had directed the theft and public dissemination of DNC e-mails in order to benefit Trump. But in recent weeks the former heads of the CIA and Office of National Intelligence have themselves stated publicly that that foundational allegation is untrue: Only three agencies (the CIA, FBI, and NSA) prepared the report, and not even those agencies themselves but “hand-picked analysts.” Still more, the former director of the FBI, James Comey, has admitted that the FBI itself never examined the DNC computers in question.
Nonetheless, the most influential US media outlets continue to report what is now an established falsehood. Considering the outlets, the most indicative example may be Maggie Haberman, a lead New York Times reporter on “Russiagate” and regular CNN panelist, who wrote, on June 26, that President Trump “still refuses to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies…Russia orchestrated the attacks and did it to help get him elected.” It is Haberman and the Times that refuse “to acknowledge a basic fact.” And they are far from alone. On June 26, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen repeated the same falsehood, which issues almost daily from CNN and MSNBC hosts and carefully selected guests.
Indeed, on June 25, the Post made things worse for itself and for the nation, publishing an interminable “investigative” article claiming to prove Putin’s “crime of the century.” Most of it rested on familiar unverified allegations made by the Post and other mainstream media outlets, as well as by many members of Congress, for nearly a year, including those involving “17 American intelligence agencies,” but it added what was meant to be a bombshell revelation: The Obama White House knew about Putin’s role, and his intent to benefit Trump, from a mole—either human or technical—in Putin’s inner circle. No actual evidence was provided by the Post except a vague reference to a “sealed parcel,” but logic alone discredits the story. If US intel had acquired a listening source in Putin’s closed circle, it would be one of the great espionage feats in history—but a present and future asset so precious no one would dare leak it to The Washington Post. (Cohen recalls the misrepresentation of Trump’s meeting with the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office, when Trump was alleged to have betrayed secret intelligence about an Israeli secret agent inside ISIS, surely a far lesser commission, even had it occurred.)