How much did Russian hacking affect congressional races? And how deeply was the GOP involved?

Why is the speaker so blasé about Russian meddling? Maybe because he knows it helped the GOP win close races

How much did Russian hacking affect congressional races? And how deeply was the GOP involved?

(Credit: Getty/Mark Wilson)

If there’s one thing you can say about the Donald Trump presidency so far, it isn’t boring. From horror stories at the border to Trump’s semi-triumphant teleprompter speech and Attorney General Jeff Sessions being personally connected to the growing Russia scandal, this week has been a doozy.

I was not surprised that Sessions finally recused himself from the campaign scandal. It was absurd that he was not required to do so before he was confirmed. What finally forced him to take the step was the report that he had met with the Russian ambassador twice during the summer and fall, after having told the Judiciary Committee that he had not had contact with any Russian officials during the campaign. Top Democrats are now calling for Sessions’ resignation, and the story of his contacts with the Russian ambassador is still unfolding with new details about whether he discussed the Trump campaign.

The upshot is that at the very least Sessions showed appalling judgment in agreeing to meet the Russian ambassador the day after The Wall Street Journal reported that the director of national intelligence had declared that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. It’s very hard to believe that this didn’t come up in the conversation. Even if the two men were unaware of that comment, they must have been aware of the discussion the previous night in a presidential town hall forum with Matt Lauer, in which Trump praised Vladimir Putin in such florid terms that The New York Times story that morning began this way:

Donald J. Trump’s campaign on Thursday reaffirmed its extraordinary embrace of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, signaling a preference for the leadership of an authoritarian adversary over that of America’s own president, despite a cascade of criticism from Democrats and expressions of discomfort among Republicans.

One of those discomfited was House Speaker Paul Ryan who was quoted in the article saying, “Vladimir Putin is an aggressor who does not share our interests,” and accusing the Russian leader of “conducting state-sponsored cyberattacks” on our political system.

This was just one of the many times Ryan zigged and zagged during the campaign, constantly calibrating how far he could go in criticizing Trump while keeping Trump’s passionate voters off his back. This particular issue was a tough one, since until quite recently the Republicans had been inveterate Russia hawks and the abrupt switch to dovish goodwill was undeniably disorienting.

Prior to Sessions’ recusal on Thursday morning, Ryan held a press conference in which he blamed the Democrats for “setting their hair on fire” to prompt the press to cover the story. That was ridiculous. The press needs no prodding to cover this scandal; it’s as juicy as they get. Ryan also pooh-poohed the idea that Sessions had any obligation to remove himself from the investigation unless he was personally implicated and robotically repeated the contention that nobody had seen any evidence that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

That may be true, and presumably we’ll find out sooner or later. But it’s important to remember that DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, were not the only targets of hacking. Russian agents also allegedly hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That story has been scandalously undercovered, something for which Paul Ryan is no doubt very grateful.

On Dec. 13 The New York Times published an article that laid out how the hacked material was used in various House races. At first the hackers just released a lot of personal information, which was used by hostile individuals to harass and threaten the candidates. Then the hacks and dumps by the person or group known as Guccifer 2.0 became more sophisticated and targeted certain close races, releasing politically valuable tactical information:

The seats that Guccifer 2.0 targeted in the document dumps were hardly random: They were some of the most competitive House races in the country. In [Annette] Taddeo’s district [in Florida], the House seat is held by a Republican, even though the district leans Democratic and Mrs. Clinton won it this year by a large majority.

To prepare for the race, the D.C.C.C. had done candid evaluations of the two candidates vying in the primary for the nomination. Those inside documents, bluntly describing each candidate’s weaknesses, are considered routine research inside political campaigns. But suddenly they were being aired in public.

Taddeo lost her primary race to another Democrat named Joe Garcia who used the hacked material against her. And then this happened:

After Mr. Garcia defeated Ms. Taddeo in the primary using the material unearthed in the hacking, the National Republican Campaign Committee and a second Republican group with ties to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, turned to the hacked material to attack him.

In Florida, Guccifer 2.0’s most important partner was an obscure political website run by an anonymous blogger called HelloFLA!, run by a former Florida legislative aide turned Republican lobbyist. The blogger sent direct messages via Twitter to Guccifer 2.0 asking for copies of any additional Florida documents.

By September, the hacker had released documents in close House races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina, working with Republican bloggers who disseminated the information for them. They also posted information on Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair, even though he was effectively running unopposed.

Both Luján and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote letters to Ryan asking him not to use the material and received no response. His spokeswoman told the Times that Ryan had no control over how the stolen information was used. Nonetheless, there were some Republicans who refused to do so, saying it was inappropriate. They were rare.

I don’t think anyone believes it’s likely that Paul Ryan personally colluded with the Russians in this operation. The fact that many Republicans, some affiliated with the National Republican Congressional Committee and a group closely affiliated with Ryan, eagerly used it to win their campaigns is not surprising. But it is highly unlikely that Republican strategists or party officials with strong knowledge of the House campaigns didn’t collude with the hackers at some point, because it’s difficult to believe that Russians would have which House races to target without some help from people with expertise concerning the 2016 map.

Republican congressional leaders must be thanking their lucky stars daily that the Trump administration is such a scandal-ridden Dumpster fire. If things ever calm down in the White House, somebody might just turn his or her attention to the question of what Paul Ryan knew and when.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

trump-cia-speechedited

None dare call it treason:

Has Trump’s entire team been compromised by Putin? If so, everyone who continues to support him is complicit 

On Monday evening, national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after supposedly losing the “trust” of President Donald Trump by failing to adequately and fully explain his phone conversations with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

As The New York Times explained on Wednesday, FBI agents apparently concluded that Flynn had not been “entirely forthcoming” in describing a phone call he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. That set in motion “a chain of events that cost Mr. Flynn his job and thrust Mr. Trump’s fledgling administration into a fresh crisis.”

As the Times report elaborated, Trump “took his time” deciding what to do about Flynn’s dishonesty and was none too eager to fire him.

But other aides [such as other than press secretary Sean Spicer] privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

Flynn is not alone. Other Trump operatives are also under investigation by the FBI for potentially illegal contact with senior Russian intelligence operatives.

This information is not new. The New York Times and other American news media outlets were aware of reports about Russian tampering in the 2016 election as well as an ongoing federal investigation of Trump, his advisers and other representatives. Instead of sharing this information with the American people during the election campaign, the Times and other publications chose to exercise “restraint” and “caution.” Decades of bullying by the right-wing media and movement conservatives would pay great dividends.

Afraid of showing any so-called liberal bias, the corporate news media demonstrated little restraint in its obsessive reporting about the nonstory that was Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, in conjunction with other factors, almost certainly cost her the election.

In all, the Republican Party and its voters have abandoned their Cold War bona fides and their (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as die-hard enemies of Russia and the former Soviet Union. To borrow from the language of spy craft, it would seem that they have been “flipped” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite mounting evidence suggesting that Trump’s administration has been compromised by Russia, his public continues to back him. The Republican Party and its leadership have largely chosen to support Trump in a type of political suicide mission because they see him as an opportunity to force their agenda on the American people and reverse or undo by the social progress made by the New Deal, the civil rights movement, feminism, the LGBT movement and other forces of progressive change.

In the midst of these not so new “revelations” about Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s inner circle, the news media is now fixated on the Nixonian question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This question ought to not be treated like a mystery. The answer should be readily apparent because it is a direct reflection of Trump’s political and personal values.

Trump has repeatedly shown that he is a fascist authoritarian who admires political strongmen and autocrats such as Putin. In keeping with that leadership style, Trump has surrounded himself with family members and other advisers so as to insulate himself from criticism — and also to neuter any political rivals. In violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump is also using the office of the presidency to personally enrich himself, his family members and other members of his inner circle, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump also has a longtime pattern of open admiration for gangsters and organized crime.

In sum, Trump’s presidency has many of the traits of a criminal enterprise and a financial shakedown operation, masquerading as a democratically elected government.

Flynn resigned because he got caught, not because of what he did. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this with his statement during Tuesday’s press briefing that Flynn did “nothing wrong or inappropriate.” In response to this most recent scandal, Trump and his surrogates are now trying to focus on “the leaks,” rather than the potential crimes that may have been committed. Like most political strongmen, Trump values secrecy and loyalty above all else. Those things must be maintained at all costs, even if that means that a given member of the ruling cabal might occasionally have to fall on his or her own sword.

Based on the increasing evidence of communication between his inner circle and Russian operatives, it appears plausible that Trump either actively knew about Flynn’s actions (and perhaps even directed them) or chose to look away while actively benefiting from them. Either choice should disqualify him from the presidency.

In an earlier essay for Salon, I argued that for a variety of reasons that Trump can be considered a traitor to the United States. By that standard, his voters and other supporters who do not denounce him are also traitors, and any Republican officials who continue to back Trump are traitors as well. Recent revelations about Flynn and the still unknown extent of contact between other Trump advisers and Russian agents serve to only reinforce the truth of my earlier claim.

Republicans and other conservatives behave as though they have a monopoly on patriotism and exclusive claims to being “real Americans.” Now is the time for them to test that commitment. Do Republicans and other conservatives love power more than their country? I fear I know the answer. I ask the question in the hope that I am wrong.

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.