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18 Aug, 2020 20:26

Not with a bang, but a whimper: Final ‘Russiagate’ report provides ‘BREATHTAKING' evidence of… nothing

Not with a bang, but a whimper: Final ‘Russiagate’ report provides ‘BREATHTAKING' evidence of… nothing

A new Senate report resurrects the corpse of ‘Russiagate’ and promises new evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. However, it reached its so-called conclusions by relying on some literal fake news.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released its fifth and final report on Russia’s supposed interference in the 2016 election, and President Donald Trump’s supposed ‘collusion’ with the Kremlin, on Tuesday. The report retreads much of the same ground as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ investigation, and arrives at broadly similar conclusions.

However, the scope of the report has led its authors to arrive at vastly different conclusions. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who currently chairs the committee, said on Tuesday that the report “found absolutely no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election.”

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Rubio only took over leadership of the committee from Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) in May. Before stepping down under a cloud of suspicion over alleged pandemic insider trading, Burr basically allowed Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) to largely run the committee’s probe from 2017 onwards.

Warner saw things differently than Rubio, saying on Tuesday that the final volume revealed “a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives.”

Warner was likely seeing what he wanted to see. The latest edition of the report focused on the “counterintelligence threats” posed by Russia in 2016, yet, like earlier editions, it relied on rumor, hearsay, and what appear to be politically motivated reports, in documenting these supposed “threats.”

For example, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is described as having worked with a Russian intelligence official “on narratives that sought to undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election,” yet the report neglected to describe this official – an Ukrainian citizen named Konstantin Kilimnik – as a US State Department informant, which he was. 

The report also describes a phone conversation between former campaign associate Roger Stone and someone who “almost certainly” was President Trump. Based on Stone’s prior interest in WikiLeaks’ forthcoming release of Democratic Party emails, the report concludes that “it appears quite likely” Stone and Trump spoke about WikiLeaks.

The word “likely” appears nearly 140 times throughout the 1,000-page report, while “almost certainly” appears 21 times. In nearly every case, these words are used to make assumptions in place of actual evidence. 

The Russian military intelligence outfit – referred to most often as GRU – is described as conspiring with WikiLeaks to release the Democratic emails, a claim that is not, and has never been, substantiated. Kilimnik is described as “linked” to this so-called hacking operation based only “on a body of fragmentary information.” Such shoddy sourcing goes on throughout the report, and readers looking for evidence of Russia’s election-hacking capability are directed to the committee’s earlier reports.

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However, anyone flicking through these reports is greeted by some even more scandalous citations. In a report released in December 2018, the committee notes it relied on the work of New Knowledge, a firm staffed by techies linked to the Democrats and the US military. New Knowledge co-founder Jonathon Morgan is also a developer of the anti-Russia Hamilton 68 Dashboard, which is partly funded by NATO and USAID.

This firm was later revealed to have run its own election interference operation, generating thousands of fake social media profiles to swing Alabama’s 2017 special Senate election against Republican candidate Roy Moore. Ironically, this scheme saw one of New Knowledge’s founders booted off Facebook for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” a charge Russiagaters usually level at so-called troll accounts.

Yet this firm’s guesswork was treated as evidence, as was the 2017 ‘Intelligence Community Assessment’, itself the work of a small number of Obama administration intelligence chiefs who were later implicated in a plot to derail Trump’s presidency.

Coming less than 90 days before the presidential election, the latest report is unlikely to move the needle on Trump’s popularity, nor spur a fresh impeachment drive against the president. 

However, its conclusion – that Russia’s election-meddling efforts are “ongoing” –  will likely give lawmakers on both sides of the aisle a fresh shot at blaming Russia for whatever may go awry when Americans go to the polls in November.

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