...And Justice For All (Eventually)

Podcast E10: Justice Prevails, with Democracy Pledge co-founders Glenn Kirschner and Jon Cohen

BREAKING NEWS, of the kind we never could have anticipated: a Russian intelligence officer, when given valuable polling data by the chair of the Trump campaign in 2016, gave that polling data to his bosses in Russian intelligence.

That’s right, a guy whose job is to gather intelligence for his superiors—wait for it—gathered intelligence for his superiors. Incredible! Amazing! Never could have seen that coming!

The Russian intelligence officer is named Konstantin Kilimnik. He specializes in election fuckery. Before lending his skills to the Trump campaign, he’d partnered with Paul Manafort, the chair of the Trump campaign from May through August 2016, to fuck with an election in Ukraine—and to support one of the most corrupt leaders in the Western world. Kilimnik’s ties to Russian intelligence were discussed on pages 131-133 of the Mueller Report. Too, Volume 5 of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Campaign, released in August of 2020, expressly names Kilimnik as a Russian intelligence officer. So it boggles the mind that, in April of 2021, Rachel Maddow and the other broadcast luminaries would react with surprise to the Treasury Department memo stating that Kilimnik did in fact give polling data shared with him by Manafort to the Kremlin.

When Stephen Colbert walks onstage at the beginning of his show, we aren’t blown away when he starts cracking wise. When Tyreek Hill jukes out the cornerback, catches a pass from Patrick Mahomes in stride, and makes for the endzone, we don’t question whether he will score the touchdown. When models walk the runway during Fashion Week, we aren’t gobsmacked that they are attractive. Why on god’s green earth would anyone in the media be shocked, shocked by the fact that a very talented Russian intelligence officer handed off vital intelligence to his intelligence agency?

Why did it take this long to report something that should have been obvious in August of 2020, if not May of 2019? Was Rachel Maddow, who is no dummy, really incapable of making this intellectual leap? Was she told to stand down by the risk-averse corporate attorneys at MSNBC? Were they threatened by someone in the Trump camp not to go there? Were they afraid Kilimnik would sue? What the actual ебля?

What has been so frustrating, for those of us on the vanguard of the Trump/Russia story, is that the Big Lie told by Trump and his associates from 2016 on—the original Big Lie, not the one about the election—was that there was no dealings at all between Trump associates and Russia. They didn’t deny some complex, many-footnoted, Abramsonian conspiracy; they denied engaging with Russia at all. And, like, that was just not true. It was Sean-Spicer-insisting-crowd-size-was-gigantic-grade bullshit. No, check that: bullshit makes it seem quaint. It was dezinformatsiya—disinformation. It was part of a psyop. And it worked.

Throughout the campaign, during the transition period, and after inauguration, Donald Trump and his surrogates vehemently denied meeting with Russians of any stripe, for any purpose. Every time they were asked about a connection between the campaign and the Kremlin, they shot it down. And they were indignant about it. The response was always something along the lines of, “Russia? Us? How dare you accuse us of such a thing!”

Here are some examples:

24 July 2016, Paul Manafort, Trump campaign chair:
“…pure obfuscation…..That’s absurd. And, you know, there’s no basis to it.”

24 July 2016, Donald Trump, Jr:
“I can’t think of bigger lies. But that exactly goes to show you what the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win…..These lies and the perpetuating of that kind of nonsense to gain some political capital is just outrageous.”

27 July 2016, Donald Trump:
“I can tell you, I think if I came up with that, they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a conspiracy theory, it’s ridiculous.’ I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world, but we’re not involved in Russia.”

25 September 2016, Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager:
“If [Carter Page is] doing that [meeting with Russians], he’s certainly not doing it with the permission or knowledge of the campaign, the activities that you described. He is certainly not authorized to do that.”

24 October 2016, Trump:
“I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, I’ll give you a written statement.”

11 November 2016, Hope Hicks, campaign communications director:
“It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

18 December 2017, Conway:
“Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous.”

11 January 2017, Trump (tweet):
“Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”

15 January 2017, Mike Pence, Vice President-elect:
“Well of course not. I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”

7 February 2017, Trump (tweet):
“I don't know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy…”

16 February 2017, Trump:
“I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.”

19 February 2017, Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff:
“I can assure you and I have been approved to say this: that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.”

20 February 2017, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary:
Trump/Russia is “a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”

24 February 2017, Sean Spicer, White House press secretary:
“Well, again, there are no connections to find out about. That’s the problem. I think, a), he [Trump] has answered it forcefully. You can’t disprove something that doesn’t exist. He’s talked about the fact how many times he’s talked to Putin. He has no interests in Russia….There’s only so many times he can deny something that doesn’t exist.”

26 February 2017, Trump (tweet):
“Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!”

11 May 2017, Trump:
“I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe pageant—which I owned for quite a while—I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.”

18 May 2017, Trump:
“…the entire thing has been a witch hunt. There is no collusion—certainly myself and my campaign—but I can always speak for myself and the Russians—zero.”

These were all lies—the same big lie, repeated over and over. Trump has employed the Nazi-developed “Big Lie” technique for years—lying regularly about his wealth (he lied his way onto the Forbes wealthiest Americans list), his fitness (he coerced his physician to lie about how healthy he was), his sexual prowess (a tabloid headline allegedly from ex-wife Marla Maples, saying Trump was the best sex she’d ever had), and so forth.

But this was different. This wasn’t about the size of his bank account, his good cholesterol levels, or his penis. This was about national security, about cozying up to an enemy. And yet still, Trump and his minions went on TV, took to Twitter, stood behind the podium in the White House Press Room, and lied egregiously to the American people, over and over and over and over.

If that list of quotes and the paragraphs before and after it look familiar, it’s because they are from the first chapter of my book, Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia, published in May of 2018. A full year before the release of the Mueller Report, using only publicly-available reporting, I was able to call out the Big Lie about Russia. And it’s not like I’m some savant, or had well-placed sources. This was all glaringly obvious in the moment. Why did the press—who, after all, had produced the reporting I cited in the book—not connect these rather unsubtle dots? Why is the media still, three full years later, so reluctant to talk about this? Why won’t MSNBC mention the investigative journalist Craig Unger, or his book American Kompromat, by name on its broadcasts?

How many vowels do they need to buy before they solve the puzzle?

Yes, Trump and his people met with Russians. One of those Russians, Manafort’s righthand man, was an intelligence officer who shared polling data with the Kremlin. Another Russian, Dmitri Simes, who helped Jared Kushner organize the Mayflower Hotel foreign policy speech, is widely believed to be an intelligence officer. Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States and likely also an intelligence officer, met with so many Trump people I’ve lost track. Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor living in London and almost certainly a Russian intelligence asset, was actively trying to recruit Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos within hours of him joining the campaign. Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney with close ties to Vladimir Putin who claimed to have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, met with Don Junior, Kushner, and Manafort at Trump Tower. These aren’t rank-and-file Russians, or dissident ex-chess players or Pussy Riot band members. The Trump people met with Russians who had ties to Russian intelligence.

The Trump people met with Russian spies.

This all happened. It’s real. And it had catastrophic consequences for the country, and for the republic itself. Here is another quote from 2018’s Dirty Rubles:

Donald Trump is nothing less than a threat to the American way of life. His term in office comprises an existential threat to the republic, the gravest since the Civil War. Not since 1860 has the future of the Union itself been in such doubt. Other presidents might have lacked good judgment, but we never questioned where their true loyalties lay. George W. Bush loved America, Richard Nixon loved America, Herbert Hoover and Warren G. Harding loved America. Trump loves only himself, cares only about himself, is loyal only to himself. And Vladimir Putin has exploited this weakness, to the detriment of not just every American, but every freedom-loving human being on earth.

…Once a democracy falls, once a dictator is installed, the damage is irreversible.

It has been three months since Biden’s inauguration. Merrick Garland, the newly-minted AG, has been on the job for six weeks. Besiegers of the Capitol have been rounded up and arrested. But the big fish swim free.

Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Steve Bannon—the first three convicted, the last under indictment—were pardoned by the outgoing President Trump, and continue merrily to treason.

Rudy Giuliani has not yet been charged.

Erik Prince has not yet been charged.

Devin Nunes has not yet been charged.

Mike Pence has not yet been charged.

Jared Kushner has not yet been charged.

Don Junior and Ivanka have not yet been charged.

The former guy has not yet been charged.

Are these seditious traitors, whose greed and ineptitude caused the death of half a million Americans, really going to get away with it? History suggests they will. When it comes to prosecuting the crimes of our past regimes, the United States is as lawless as the Wild West. We’ve been letting each other skate since at least the days of Andrew Johnson.

On this week’s podcast, I asked the indefatigable Glenn Kirschner, the former federal prosecutor who is the embodiment of justice being served, when we should start worrying that, in the case of Trump/Russia, the good guys will not prevail. He answered with two words: “Not yet.” Then he explained who Merrick Garland is, and why he has so much faith in him and freshly-confirmed Deputy AG Lisa Monaco, and in the cause of justice. I love Glenn, and it’s hard to listen to him and not be convinced.

My other guest, Jon Cohen—the British musician and political activist who, with Kirschner, is the co-founder of The Democracy Pledge—made an excellent point on this subject. From the outside, he said, due process looks exactly the same as doing nothing. As frustrating as it is to wait, the process takes time.

This is not what we want to hear, especially those of us who have been on this story from the jump. After all, Merrick Garland is not the first would-be hero in whom we’ve been asked to put our faith. Obama did not save us. Comey was not our homey. Mueller was cockblocked by Bill Barr. Volume 5 was cockblocked by Marco Rubio. And the beat goes on, the crimes continue, the crooks get more brazen—until, in a flash, they don’t.

The wheels of justice turn slow, etc. The moral arc of the universe is long, etc. Maybe we should ask Derek Chauvin if justice is coming.


E10: Justice Prevails, with Democracy Pledge co-founders Glenn Kirschner and Jon Cohen

Description: Greg Olear is joined by the co-founders of the Democracy Pledge, Jon Cohen and Glenn Kirschner. They talk about the pledge, Merrick Garland, and when justice is coming. Plus: the ultimate blood bank.

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