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Why the Senate report on Trump and Putin’s 2016 meddling is a triumph for truth

The report leaves no doubt that an extensive network of Russian operatives with intelligence ties worked with Trump’s operatives to torpedo Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

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One of Trumpism’s enduring scars will be the social fissures it’s widened by waging war on objective reality and public faith in bedrock institutions. It’s also fostered a cult of personality around Donald Trump, allowing him to posture as the final arbiter of truth and guardian of the downtrodden. But division, chaos and disrepair — and the corruption of the American experiment — are the long-term consequences.

So it’s encouraging when a bipartisan group of federal legislators reminds us that facts matter.

966-page Senate report published Tuesday leaves no doubt that an extensive network of Russian operatives with intelligence ties worked with Trump’s operatives to torpedo Hillary Clinton’s campaign four years ago. Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw the effort, including a successful hack of Democratic Party computer systems. Why? To smear Clinton and hobble her administration if she won, and to gain leverage with Trump if he won.

The Republican-led committee that produced the report said that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was so steeped in the effort with Russia that he posed a “grave counterintelligence threat.” It said that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, participated in a covert effort by the Russian government to help his father in 2016. It said the president himself may have been a possible target of Russian blackmail. It said that Putin was aware that Trump — during his presidential campaign — was secretly pursuing a deal to build a skyscraper in Moscow.

The committee also found that Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime political hatchet man, made elaborate efforts to learn about Russian leaks of confidential Democratic emails through Julian Assange’s hacking collective, Wikileaks. And in the course of that discovery, the committee learned that Trump “did, in fact, speak with Stone about Wikileaks and with members of his campaign about Stone’s access to Wikileaks on multiple occasions.” That’s interesting, because the president himself, in written testimony to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, said he couldn’t recall those conversations.

Mueller concluded his work last year by saying he hadn’t found enough evidence to charge Team Trump with a criminal conspiracy. He clearly found evidence that the Trump camp tried to obstruct justice, however, and he left it to Congress to hash out the matter. For its part, the Senate report said that the Trump campaign’s intersection with Putin’s underlings didn’t amount to a coordinated conspiracy — and that in some cases the sheer dimwittedness of the people working for Trump exposed them to manipulation.

You may remember that Trump and his GOP backers tried to spin Mueller’s findings by saying that “no collusion” meant that Trump and those around him did nothing wrong. Republicans on Tuesday resurrected the “no collusion” mantra, working hard to convey the idea that the Senate report somehow meant that everything’s all right, everything’s fine, and we want you to sleep well tonight.

But, of course, everything isn’t all right. The Russia scandal wasn’t a hoax. It was reality.

Even if the skullduggery the Senate documented didn’t amount to a formal conspiracy, sabotage and malfeasance took place. Russia got its hooks into a presidential election, Trump used his campaign to try to make business deals in Moscow, the people around Trump invited foreign influence into an election, and the president apparently lied to Mueller. It’s not a mystery why Trump has cultivated and coddled Putin throughout his presidency, even if the Senate didn’t chart the money trail all the way to Russia. The president, who spent his business career consorting with mobsters, has always had an affinity with grifters and those, like Putin, who he thinks might help him grift.

Trump’s supporters have worked overtime focusing on tangential aspects of the Russia scandal to keep Trump’s presidency in play, confirm their own biases or soften any guilt they might feel for looking the other way in the face of overt corruption. Right-wing media and Republican apologists have argued that a minor piece of evidence used by federal investigators — an unreliable dossier about Trump’s Russia ties prepared by a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele — meant that the entire Russian probe was improper.

As I noted at greater length last year, the Steele dossier wasn’t the reason the Russia probe began, and its shortcomings simply weren’t pivotal enough to demonstrate that the probe was ill-considered. The Senate report points out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation mishandled the Steele dossier and gave it too much credence. More important, however, the report doesn’t dismiss the far greater weight of all the other evidence of Trump’s corrosive and dangerous game of patty-cake with Russia.

Russia’s threats to American elections and national security are ongoing, and that’s another reason the Senate report is valuable. Because facts are fundamental, and it’s impossible to make good decisions without them. Mother Nature has reminded us of this truth with the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate’s report teaches the same lesson in its assessment of Russia, the Trump administration and White House propaganda.- Bloomberg

Also read: It’s not just the Trump campaign that’s implicated in Senate probe on Russian role in 2016


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