Is MSNBC Now the Most Dangerous Warmonger Network?

A recent study revealed that MSNBC’s coverage of ‘Russiagate’ vastly outweighs its coverage of other issues, such as the US-backed humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the network’s refusal to correct the disparity could lead to dangerous conclusions, notes Norman Solomon.

The evidence is damning. And the silence underscores the arrogance.

More than seven weeks after a devastating report from the media watch group FAIR, top executives and prime-time anchors at MSNBC still refuse to discuss how the network’s obsession with Russia has thrown minimal journalistic standards out the window.

FAIR’s study, “MSNBC Ignores Catastrophic U.S.-Backed War in Yemen,” documented a picture of extreme journalistic malfeasance at MSNBC:

— “An analysis by FAIR has found that the leading liberal cable network did not run a single segment devoted specifically to Yemen in the second half of 2017. And in these latter roughly six months of the year, MSNBC ran nearly 5,000 percent more segments that mentioned Russia than segments that mentioned Yemen.”

— “Moreover, in all of 2017, MSNBC only aired one broadcast on the U.S.-backed Saudi airstrikes that have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. And it never mentioned the impoverished nation’s colossal cholera epidemic, which infected more than 1 million Yemenis in the largest outbreak in recorded history.”

— “All of this is despite the fact that the U.S. government has played a leading role in the 33-month war that has devastated Yemen, selling many billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia, refueling Saudi warplanes as they relentlessly bomb civilian areas and providing intelligence and military assistance to the Saudi air force.”

Meanwhile, MSNBC’s incessant “Russiagate” coverage has put the network at the media forefront of overheated hyperbole about the Kremlin. And continually piling up the dry tinder of hostility toward Russia boosts the odds of a cataclysmic blowup between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.

In effect, the programming on MSNBC follows a thin blue party line, breathlessly conforming to Democratic leaders’ refrains about Russia as a mortal threat to American democracy and freedom across the globe. But hey—MSNBC’s ratings have climbed upward during its monochrome reporting, so why worry about whether coverage is neglecting dozens of other crucial stories? Or why worry if the anti-Russia drumbeat is worsening the risks of a global conflagration?

FAIR’s report, written by journalist Ben Norton and published on Jan. 8, certainly merited a serious response from MSNBC and the anchors most identified by the study, Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes. Yet no response has come from them or network executives. (Full disclosure: I’m a longtime associate of FAIR.)

In the aftermath of the FAIR study, a petition gathered 22,784 signers and 4,474 individual comments—asking MSNBC to remedy its extreme imbalance of news coverage. But the network and its prime-time luminaries Maddow and Hayes refused to respond despite repeated requests for a reply.

The petition was submitted in late January to Maddow and Hayes via their producers, as well as to MSNBC senior vice president Errol Cockfield and to the network’s senior manager in charge of media relations for “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “All In with Chris Hayes.”

Signers responded to outreach from three organizations—Just Foreign Policy, RootsAction.org (which I coordinate), and World Beyond War—calling for concerned individuals to “urge Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and MSNBC to correct their failure to report on the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and the direct U.S. military role in causing the catastrophe by signing our petition.” (The petition is still gathering signers.)

As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia’s “attack on our democracy” that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politicians (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering and many other U.S. electoral defects all put together.

At the same time, the anti-Russia mania also services the engines of the current militaristic machinery.

It’s what happens when nationalism and partisan zeal overcome something that could be called journalism.

“The U.S. media’s approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda,” the independent journalist Robert Parry wrote at the end of 2017, in the last article published before his death. “Does any sentient human being read the New York Times’ or the Washington Post’s coverage of Russia and think that he or she is getting a neutral or unbiased treatment of the facts?”

Parry added that “to even suggest that there is another side to the story makes you a ‘Putin apologist’ or ‘Kremlin stooge.’ Western journalists now apparently see it as their patriotic duty to hide key facts that otherwise would undermine the demonizing of Putin and Russia. Ironically, many ‘liberals’ who cut their teeth on skepticism about the Cold War and the bogus justifications for the Vietnam War now insist that we must all accept whatever the U.S. intelligence community feeds us, even if we’re told to accept the assertions on faith.”

Across a U.S. media landscape where depicting Russia as a fully villainous enemy is now routine, MSNBC is a standout. The most profound dangers from what Rachel Maddow and company are doing is what they least want to talk about—how the cumulative effects and momentum of their work are increasing the likelihood that tensions between Washington and Moscow will escalate into a horrendous military conflict.

Even at the height of the Cold War during the 1960s, when Soviet Communists ruled Russians with zero freedom of speech or press, most U.S. political and media elites recognized the vital need for détente. They applauded the “Spirit of Glassboro” when the top leadership of the United States and Russia met at length. Now, across most of the U.S. media spectrum, no such overtures to the Kremlin are to be tolerated.

The U.S. government’s recently released “Nuclear Posture Review” underscores just how unhinged the situation has become.

Consider the assessment from the head of a first-rate research organization in the nuclear weapons field, the Los Alamos Study Group. Its executive director, Greg Mello, said: “What is most ‘missing in action’ in this document is civilian leadership. Trump is not supplying that. In part the fault for this comes from Democrats—who, allied with the intelligence community and other military-industrial interests, insist that the U.S. must have an adversarial relationship with Russia. There is no organized senior-level opposition to the new Cold War, which is intensifying week by week. This document reflects, and is just one of many policies embodying, the new and very dangerous Cold War.”

But—with everyone’s survival at stake—none of that seems to matter much to those who call the shots at MSNBC.

 Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Solomon was a member of the independent task force that wrote the recent report “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis.” [This article was originally published at Truthdig (www.truthdig.com).]

 

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Putin Claims Strategic Parity, Respect

Vladimir Putin’s announcement of new weapons systems to achieve nuclear parity was the result of the erosion of arms control regimes, such as the ill-advised U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002, Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State-of-the-Nation speech Thursday represents a liminal event in the East-West strategic balance — and an ominous one.

That the strategic equation is precarious today comes through clearly in Putin’s words. The U.S. and Russia have walked backwards over the threshold of sanity first crossed in the right direction by their predecessors in 1972 with the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Amid the “balance of terror” that reigned pre-1972, sensible statesmen on both sides concluded and implemented the ABM treaty which, in effect, guaranteed “mutual assured destruction” — the (altogether fitting) acronym was MAD — if either side attempted a nuclear attack on the other. MAD might not sound much better than “balance of terror,” but the ABM treaty introduced a significant degree of stability for 30 years.

The treaty itself was the result of painstaking negotiation with considerable understanding and good faith shown by both sides. The formidable task challenging us intelligence specialists was to be able to assure President Nixon that, if he decided to trust, we could monitor Soviet adherence and promptly report any violations. (Incidentally, the Soviets did cheat. In mid-1983 we detected a huge early warning radar installation at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia — a clear violation of the ABM treaty. President Reagan called them on it, and the Soviets eventually tore it down.)

During the U.S.-Soviet negotiations on the ABM treaty, a third of the CIA Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, which I led at the time, was involved in various supporting roles. I was in Moscow on May 26, 1972 for the treaty signing by President Richard Nixon and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. I recall not being able to suppress an audible sigh of relief. MAD, I believed, would surely be preferable to the highly precarious strategic situation that preceded it. It was.

Cornerstone of Stability

In his speech on March 1, President Putin included an accurate tutorial on what happened after three decades, noting that Moscow was “categorically against” the U.S. decision in 2002 to withdraw from the ABM treaty. He described the treaty as “the cornerstone of the international security system.”

Putin explained that under the treaty, “the parties had the right to deploy ballistic missile defense systems in only one of its regions. Russia deployed these systems around Moscow, and the U.S. around its Grand Forks land-based ICBM base [in North Dakota].”  (He did not mention the aborted attempt to deploy a second installation at Krasnoyarsk.)

The Russian President explained: “The ABM treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust, but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons … because the limited number of ballistic missile defense systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.”

Putin was saying, in effect, that no matter how bad — even mad — the MAD concept may seem, it played a huge stabilizing role. He added that the U.S. rejected all Russian proposals toward constructive dialogue on the post-ABM treaty situation, and grossly underestimated Russia’s ability to respond. The Russian President then gave chapter and verse, cum video clips, on an array of new Russian weaponry which, he claimed, rendered missile defense systems “useless.” The show-and-tell segment of Putin’s speech has been widely reported.

New York Times Skeptical

David Sanger, the New York Times’ go-to guy on key issues, who is among the best in the trade on reporting as “flat facts” things like WMD in Iraq and “Russian meddling,” wrote the lede on Putin’s speech in Friday’s NY Times together with Neil MacFarquhar. The meme this time is not flat fact, but skepticism: “Do these weapons really exist? Or is Putin bluffing?”

In support of their skepticism, Sanger and MacFarquhar blithely report that “analysts writing on Facebook and elsewhere leaned toward the bluff theory.” So, QED!

And echoing former National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s insight that Russians are “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever,” Sanger and MacFarquhar remind NYT readers that “deception lies at the heart of current Russian military doctrine.”

The two NYT journalists did get one thing right at the very end of their article; namely, “For years, Mr. Putin has chafed at the perceived disrespect showed to him and Russia by the United States.  ‘Nobody listened to Russia,’ he said near the end of his speech, to huge applause. ‘Well, listen now.’”

Russians, like all proud and gifted people, resent attempts to demean or marginalize them. Putin may have seen his speech, in part, as a blistering response to former President Barack Obama’s dismissive comments that “Russia doesn’t make anything” and is no more than “a regional power.”

Door Still Open to Talks

It is to be hoped that the Marine generals running U.S. defense policy, rather than calling Putin’s bluff, will now encourage President Donald Trump to take up Putin’s latest offer to “sit down at the negotiating table” and “work together … to ensure global security” — taking into account that “strategic parity” is now a reality.

Referring to what he called “our duty to inform our partners” about Russia’s claimed ability to render ABM systems “useless,” Putin added: “When the time comes, foreign and defense ministry experts will have many opportunities to discuss all these matters with them, if of course our partners so desire.”

Putin also said, “We are greatly concerned by certain provisions of the revised Nuclear Posture Review,” which envisages a nuclear response to “conventional arms attacks and even to a cyber threat.”

He described Russia’s military doctrine, as “very clear and specific”:  “Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons solely in response to a nuclear attack, or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against the country or its allies, or an act of aggression against us with the use of conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

With burgeoning threats against Iran and Syria, it is to be hoped that someone in Washington thinks to ask Putin which countries he includes among Russia’s allies.

White Lies Nobody Believes

Dana White, Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters Thursday, “Our missile defense has never been about” Russia. Now, as Harry Truman would have put it, the Russians “weren’t born yesterday.”  Putin has been extremely derisive toward those promoting the bromide that ABM installations in and around Europe are designed to defend against missiles from Iran — or North Korea.

In an unusually candid remark on missile defense on April 17, 2014, the day before Crimea was annexed, Putin told a national TV audience: “Missile defense … is no less, and probably even more important, than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this.” (Emphasis added)

To take some liberties with Shakespeare, “The fault is not in our stars, but in our Star Wars.”  Ever since President Ronald Reagan was sold on the notion that a “Star Wars” ABM system could provide the U.S. with complete protection from missile attack, exceptional opportunities to restrain — or even put an end to — the nuclear arms race have been squandered.  Victory has gone to the arms profiteers — those whom Pope Francis described to Congress as the “blood drenched arms merchants.”

The ABM project has been called, with justification, the world’s largest corporate welfare program. Jonathan Marshall  today explains quite well what should scare us — still more billions likely to be thrown at the makers of systems that, most serious scientists and engineers agree, can always be defeated, and comparatively cheaply, way or another.

Three Decade-Old Conundrum

During the mid-80s, I had a front-row seat watching President Ronald Reagan blow what appeared to be a golden chance for a comprehensive peace. I had spent most of my CIA career focusing on Soviet foreign policy and was able to tell the senior U.S. officials I was briefing that Mikhail Gorbachev, in my view, was the real deal. Even so, I was hardly prepared for how far Gorbachev was willing to go toward disarmament. At the 1986 summit with President Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland, Gorbachev proposed that all nuclear weapons be eliminated within ten years.

Reagan reportedly almost rose to the occasion, but was counseled to reject Gorbachev’s condition that any research on anti-ballistic missiles be confined to laboratories for that decade. “Star Wars,” the largest and most wasteful defense-industry program in recent memory, won the day.

I know the characters who, for whatever reason, danced to the tune of “Star Wars,” Reagan’s benighted, wistful wish for an airtight defense against strategic missiles.

The naysayers to peace included ideologues like CIA Director William Casey and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, windsocks like CIA Deputy Director Robert Gates and one of his proteges, Fritz Ermarth, a viscerally anti-Russian functionary and former Northrop Corporation employee, during Reykjavik.

According to author Jim Mann, several years after Reykjavik, Ermarth reflected on how he had been wrong in being overly suspicious of Gorbachev and how the intuition of Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz had been more perceptive.

What Now?

By all appearances, President Putin is as interested in stemming the strategic arms race as was Gorbachev. On Thursday, Putin talked about this particular moment being liminal — he called it “a turning point for the entire world.”  Will there be anyone in Washington at the other end of the phone, if Moscow calls?  If, in effect, the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media complex answers, ABM developers will continue to fatten their purses and squander our children’s future.

It may be time to recall the admonition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a speech he gave 65 years ago:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.  

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. … This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?

‘Nuff said.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington.  He served 30 years as an U.S. Army Intelligence and CIA analyst, and in retirement co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

published by alfonso

 

 

What Mueller Has and What He’s Missing

 

So far there’s little of the former and a lot of the latter. Absent more evidence, skepticism remains a healthy stance.

By PETER VAN BUREN •

February 28, 2018Some Russians somewhere may have somehow meddled in the 2016 presidential election. But what Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller really has to answer, some 16 months after the voting, is whether Donald Trump knowingly worked with a foreign government to get elected in return for some quid pro quoRussiagate. So where’s the proverbial beef?

On February 22, Mueller handed down a 32-count indictment, following a similar one in October, that charged Paul Manafort and Richard Gates with financial crimes going back eight years or more, all related to work in Ukraine, none related to Russiagate. A day after the indictment, Gates pled guilty to financial conspiracy and lying to the FBI about a meeting five years ago. Manafort’s case is more complex: no trial date has been set, and it will likely take a year or more to conclude once started.

Two weeks ago, Mueller dropped a multi-part indictment against 13 Russian citizens connected with a so-called troll farm. The indictment alleges the group bought Facebook and Twitter ads, planned small rallies, and otherwise “meddled” in the U.S. election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made clear there was no allegation in the indictment that any American, including on the Trump campaign, “was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.”

Even if some connection to the Kremlin can be shown (it hasn’t been and since Mueller will never take this case to court—his defendants all live in Russia—it’s unlikely it ever will be), this “meddling” has no link to Trump or Russiagate. In fact, the social media campaign started when the U.S. was considering war in the Ukraine years before Trump announced his candidacy, and about half of its modestad buys took place after the election was over. The troll farm itself was not much of a secret; the New York Times profiled the place in 2015.

Mueller has also charged former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn with a non-material lie. (The FBI already knew the truth from surveillance: Flynn stepped into a perjury trap set up by Mueller. The likely sentence will be a fine.) Flynn initially pled guilty, though he’s understood to be reconsidering and may withdraw that plea. Flynn’s lie and the other accusations against him center on his work as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey.

Flynn also admitted that he lied to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador, which was surveilled by the NSA and later leaked from the Obama White House. Critics claim the conversation is a violation of the Logan Act, a law that has never been successfully prosecuted. Soon after the FBI interview in which Flynn falsely denied the conversation, Sally Yates, an Obama-era holdover serving as acting attorney general, warned the Trump White House that Russia could blackmail Flynn over having lied. Ironically, some say Mueller is essentially blackmailing Flynn using that same lie, holding out a lighter sentence if Flynn tells all.

Another of the Mueller team’s accomplishments is the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, who White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders described as “a volunteer member of an advisory council that literally met one time.” Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the FBI about a meeting with Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, another perjury trap of Mueller’s based on intelligence data. The professor said the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in “thousands of emails.” But no dirt and no emails were ever handed over.

So here’s what Mueller has: evidence of unrelated-to-Trump financial crimes by Paul Manafort and others, based mostly from FISA surveillance on Manafort dating back to 2014. The FBI’s earlier investigation was dropped for lack of evidence, and it appears Mueller revived it now in part so the information could be repurposed to press Manafort to testify. The role pervasive surveillance has played in setting perjury traps to manufacture indictments to pressure people to testify against others has been grossly underreported. We’ll see more of it, unfortunately, a new tool of justice in a surveillance state.

Flynn and Papadopoulos are currently charged with relatively minor offenses whose connections to Russiagate are tenuous. Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador can be seen as a lot of uncomplimentary things, but it does not appear to have been a crime. With Papadopoulos there may be a conspiracy charge in there with some shady lawyering, but little more. Further offstage, Carter Page, a key actor in the Steele dossier and the subject of FISA warrants, has not been charged with anything.

Here’s what Mueller is missing. The full force of the U.S. intelligence community has been looking for evidence of Russian government (not just “some Russians”) interference in the election for 18 months (the recently released Schiff memoreveals five Trump campaign officials were under investigation as of September 2016, including Flynn), with the aim of finding proof of Trump’s collusion with Russia in the same caper for about a year. It is reasonable to conclude they do not have definitive intelligence, no tape of a Team Trump official cutting a deal with a Russian spy. The same goes for the Steele dossier and its salacious accusations. If a tape existed or if there was proof the dossier was true, we’d watching impeachment hearings.

What’s left is the battle cry of Trump’s opponents since Election Day: “Just you wait.” They exhibit a scary, gleeful certainty that Trump worked with the Russians, because how else could he have won?

But so far the booked charges against Flynn and Papadopoulos and the guilty pleas of others point towards relatively minor sentences to bargain over—assuming they have game-changing information to share in the first place. These are process crimes, not ones of turpitude. Manafort says he’ll go to court and defend himself, lips sealed.

It’s not enough. Mueller is charged with nothing less than proving the president knowingly worked with a foreign government, receiving help in the election in return for some quid pro quo, an act that can be demonstrated so clearly to the American people as to overturn an election probably a full two years after it was decided.

Given the stakes—a Kremlin-controlled man in the Oval Office—you’d think every person in government would be on this 24/7 to save the nation, not a relatively small staff of prosecutors leisurely filing indictments that so far have little to do with their core charge in the hope that someone will join their felony hunt and testify to crimes that may not have been committed.

A limping-to-the-finish line conclusion to Mueller’s work just ahead of the midterms alleging Trump technically obstructed justice, or a “conspiracy to commit something” charge without a finding of an underlying crime, will risk tearing the nation apart. Mueller holds a lot in his hands, and he needs soon to produce the conclusive report to Congress he was charged to write. Until then, absent evidence, skepticism remains a healthy stance.

Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan. He Tweets @WeMeantWell.

 

By alfonso

 

 

What Mueller Has and What He’s Missing

So far there’s little of the former and a lot of the latter. Absent more evidence, skepticism remains a healthy stance.

By PETER VAN BUREN • February 28, 2018

 

 

Some Russians somewhere may have somehow meddled in the 2016 presidential election. But what Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller really has to answer, some 16 months after the voting, is whether Donald Trump knowingly worked with a foreign government to get elected in return for some quid pro quoRussiagate. So where’s the proverbial beef?

On February 22, Mueller handed down a 32-count indictment, following a similar one in October, that charged Paul Manafort and Richard Gates with financial crimes going back eight years or more, all related to work in Ukraine, none related to Russiagate. A day after the indictment, Gates pled guilty to financial conspiracy and lying to the FBI about a meeting five years ago. Manafort’s case is more complex: no trial date has been set, and it will likely take a year or more to conclude once started.

Two weeks ago, Mueller dropped a multi-part indictment against 13 Russian citizens connected with a so-called troll farm. The indictment alleges the group bought Facebook and Twitter ads, planned small rallies, and otherwise “meddled” in the U.S. election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made clear there was no allegation in the indictment that any American, including on the Trump campaign, “was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.”

Even if some connection to the Kremlin can be shown (it hasn’t been and since Mueller will never take this case to court—his defendants all live in Russia—it’s unlikely it ever will be), this “meddling” has no link to Trump or Russiagate. In fact, the social media campaign started when the U.S. was considering war in the Ukraine years before Trump announced his candidacy, and about half of its modestad buys took place after the election was over. The troll farm itself was not much of a secret; the New York Times profiled the place in 2015.

Mueller has also charged former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn with a non-material lie. (The FBI already knew the truth from surveillance: Flynn stepped into a perjury trap set up by Mueller. The likely sentence will be a fine.) Flynn initially pled guilty, though he’s understood to be reconsidering and may withdraw that plea. Flynn’s lie and the other accusations against him center on his work as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey.

Flynn also admitted that he lied to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador, which was surveilled by the NSA and later leaked from the Obama White House. Critics claim the conversation is a violation of the Logan Act, a law that has never been successfully prosecuted. Soon after the FBI interview in which Flynn falsely denied the conversation, Sally Yates, an Obama-era holdover serving as acting attorney general, warned the Trump White House that Russia could blackmail Flynn over having lied. Ironically, some say Mueller is essentially blackmailing Flynn using that same lie, holding out a lighter sentence if Flynn tells all.

Another of the Mueller team’s accomplishments is the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, who White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders described as “a volunteer member of an advisory council that literally met one time.” Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the FBI about a meeting with Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, another perjury trap of Mueller’s based on intelligence data. The professor said the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in “thousands of emails.” But no dirt and no emails were ever handed over.

So here’s what Mueller has: evidence of unrelated-to-Trump financial crimes by Paul Manafort and others, based mostly from FISA surveillance on Manafort dating back to 2014. The FBI’s earlier investigation was dropped for lack of evidence, and it appears Mueller revived it now in part so the information could be repurposed to press Manafort to testify. The role pervasive surveillance has played in setting perjury traps to manufacture indictments to pressure people to testify against others has been grossly underreported. We’ll see more of it, unfortunately, a new tool of justice in a surveillance state.

Flynn and Papadopoulos are currently charged with relatively minor offenses whose connections to Russiagate are tenuous. Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador can be seen as a lot of uncomplimentary things, but it does not appear to have been a crime. With Papadopoulos there may be a conspiracy charge in there with some shady lawyering, but little more. Further offstage, Carter Page, a key actor in the Steele dossier and the subject of FISA warrants, has not been charged with anything.

Here’s what Mueller is missing. The full force of the U.S. intelligence community has been looking for evidence of Russian government (not just “some Russians”) interference in the election for 18 months (the recently released Schiff memoreveals five Trump campaign officials were under investigation as of September 2016, including Flynn), with the aim of finding proof of Trump’s collusion with Russia in the same caper for about a year. It is reasonable to conclude they do not have definitive intelligence, no tape of a Team Trump official cutting a deal with a Russian spy. The same goes for the Steele dossier and its salacious accusations. If a tape existed or if there was proof the dossier was true, we’d watching impeachment hearings.

What’s left is the battle cry of Trump’s opponents since Election Day: “Just you wait.” They exhibit a scary, gleeful certainty that Trump worked with the Russians, because how else could he have won?

But so far the booked charges against Flynn and Papadopoulos and the guilty pleas of others point towards relatively minor sentences to bargain over—assuming they have game-changing information to share in the first place. These are process crimes, not ones of turpitude. Manafort says he’ll go to court and defend himself, lips sealed.

It’s not enough. Mueller is charged with nothing less than proving the president knowingly worked with a foreign government, receiving help in the election in return for some quid pro quo, an act that can be demonstrated so clearly to the American people as to overturn an election probably a full two years after it was decided.

Given the stakes—a Kremlin-controlled man in the Oval Office—you’d think every person in government would be on this 24/7 to save the nation, not a relatively small staff of prosecutors leisurely filing indictments that so far have little to do with their core charge in the hope that someone will join their felony hunt and testify to crimes that may not have been committed.

A limping-to-the-finish line conclusion to Mueller’s work just ahead of the midterms alleging Trump technically obstructed justice, or a “conspiracy to commit something” charge without a finding of an underlying crime, will risk tearing the nation apart. Mueller holds a lot in his hands, and he needs soon to produce the conclusive report to Congress he was charged to write. Until then, absent evidence, skepticism remains a healthy stance.

Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan. He Tweets @WeMeantWell.

 

By alfonso