Remember that infamous Russian “dossier,” the unverified document that BuzzFeed unceremoniously dumped into the public square earlier this year? You might recall it as making a series of incredibly salacious and completely unproven accusations against the sitting president of the United States. Well, it turns out that it was a piece of partisan opposition research, bought and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, both of which then denied having anything to do with it after the fact.
Last night the Washington Post reported that the Clinton campaign and the DNC used a lawyer named Marc Elias to retain the oppo-research firm Fusion GPS to conduct research on the Trump campaign (the firm had previously worked on behalf of a still-unidentified Republican to investigate Trump). Fusion GPS then hired a former intelligence officer named Christopher Steele, who conducted an investigation and authored the dossier. According to the Post, the Clinton campaign and the DNC used the law firm to pay Fusion GPS right until the end of October 2016.
As my colleague Andrew McCarthy notes, it’s a clever arrangement. The use of the law firm adds a layer of deniability, and when controversy arises, Fusion GPS is able to appeal to attorney-client privilege to shield itself from scrutiny.
It would be easy, at this point, to start to wander down the rabbit hole, to wonder how much of the so-called “Russia controversy” is based on the Clinton campaign’s opposition research, but let’s not speculate. The truth will emerge. Instead, let’s do something else: Let’s consider how the Russian-dossier story has thus far represented a perfect storm of classic Clintonism, media irresponsibility, and Democratic moral blindness.
First, the Clintonism. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman responded to the Post story with a perfect tweet:
Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year https://t.co/vXKRV1wRJc
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) October 24, 2017
Yet that’s exactly what BuzzFeed did when it published the dossier in January. We knew then that it was the product of Trump opponents. (After all, which Trump friend would commission such a report?) We did not know it was the product of the Clinton campaign. A news outlet took a rumor-filled document of then-unknown origin, failed to verify its claims, and published it anyway. At the time, BuzzFeed called its work “ferocious reporting,” but anyone can publish an opposition-research file. It was shameful for BuzzFeed to publish the dossier then. It’s even more shameful now.
Finally, let’s talk for a moment about Democratic moral blindness. One of the more incredible aspects of the emerging post-election narrative is the hero-worship that greets Hillary in some progressive circles. Sure, there are Bernie Bros and others who are bitterly angry at her, but others greet her with hugs, cheers, and tears.
This is absurd. It’s as if some Democrats see the 2016 election as a Lord of the Rings–style struggle of good versus evil, Frodo battling Gollum at the Cracks of Doom, only to see Gollum win. Nope, sorry. This was Gollum versus Gollum from the word go. The two most dishonest and disliked politicians in America battled in the sewers of American politics, and heroes were hard to find. I’m sorry, Democrats. You know how I feel about Trump, but lies and slander about Hillary are no more virtuous than lies and slander about Trump.
We don’t know what role the Russia dossier has played or is playing in the Russia investigation. We don’t know yet which parts (if any) are true. Indeed, when it comes to the full extent of Russian efforts to sow chaos in our election, influence the Clintons, or influence the Trumps, we’re like the proverbial blind men feeling different parts of the elephant. We know so little. But we did learn a bit more last night, and what we learned undermines the dossier, indicts the Clinton campaign, and helps Donald Trump.