At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two broad “Russian collusion” theories. One lacks credibility. The other just got a slight boost yesterday when Jerome Corsi provided to the Washington Post what appears to be a draft statement of offense from the special counsel’s office. Let’s call them the James Bond theory and the Austin Powers theory. The James Bond theory is fading. The Austin Powers theory may well be true.
The heart of the James Bond theory is the unsupported Steele dossier. This is the tale of collusion that has long captivated elements of the left-wing media — involving alleged “kompromat,” clandestine meetings, financial leverage, and all the stuff of a classic spy story. According to this theory, collusion represented the marriage of a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation with a near-treasonous Trump campaign — apparently full of hyper-competent operatives who could sneak, undetected, into Europe for key meetings with Russian assets.
The James Bond theory, for example, puts Michael Cohen in Prague in 2016 to meet with Russians, or Paul Manafort in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to meet with Julian Assange — two reports with dubious (to put it charitably) sourcing that all too many members of the media swallowed whole. The James Bond theory makes Russian collusion and Trump cooperation dispositive in the election. This was the scheme that upended American democracy.
I’m sorry. I don’t buy it. Not yet. Not without actual, substantial evidence. Indeed, the evidence is so thin that it’s in the Trump team’s interests to keep it in the news. The media’s eagerness to fall for anonymous sources and lurid stories hurts their credibility. It helps the Trump team to make the case that this story is the story, and if this story is false, all collusion claims are false.
But there’s another version of the collusion tale.
This is the Austin Powers theory, and it’s supported by actual evidence. This is the picture that emerges not from anonymous allegations and Clinton campaign–funded opposition research but rather from the emails and documents publicly revealed so far. Under the Austin Powers theory, the Trump campaign had in its orbit and near-orbit a collection of comically inept crooks and grifters who were looking to gain any advantage they could — without regard for morality, law, or common sense.
James Bond doesn’t respond like Donald Trump Jr. did, with “if it’s what you say I love it” in an unsecured email communication to a man who offers “official documents” from Russia as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” That’s Austin Powers–level tradecraft. Nor does James Bond pull the campaign chair and the candidate’s brother-in-law into that meeting. Austin Powers does.
But can we possibly get more Austin Powers than the dynamic duo of Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi? Corsi, some may recall, is a conspiracy theorist and the author of Where’s the Birth Certificate: The Case that Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to be President. He’s been a prolific contributor to Alex Jones’s Infowars website. And now it appears that he’s in Robert Mueller’s crosshairs — mainly because of his communications with Roger Stone and his alleged efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks.
The draft statement of offense alleges that “Person 1” (allegedly Roger Stone) — who was “understood to be in regular contact with senior members of the Trump Campaign, including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump” — asked Corsi to “get in touch with Organization 1” (allegedly WikiLeaks) “about materials it possessed relevant to the presidential campaign that had not already been released.”
The draft statement then claims that Corsi contacted a person in London in the attempt to obtain information about WikiLeaks’s plans. Corsi later emailed Stone and told him:
Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging. . . . Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton]. That appears to be the game hackers are now about. Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke – neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation debacle.
The special counsel’s office alleges that Corsi denied these communications and deleted his email correspondence. The statement of offense makes it clear that Corsi knew his efforts to reach WikiLeaks “could be subject to investigation,” yet he did it anyway.
Whether the person is George Papadopoulos finding out that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” or Donald Jr. eagerly taking a meeting with an alleged Russian representative (in Trump Tower, no less), or Corsi and Stone working together to try to get information from WikiLeaks, the picture is remarkably similar — of amateurish, inexperienced, and/or incompetent individuals in or close to the campaign thirsting for negative information about Clinton and not caring where they got it.
Indeed, if you’re a Russian interested in disrupting American elections and igniting anger in American voters, it seems there is no shortage of gullible partisans. Do you want to paint a picture of a compromised American president and his closest advisers engaged in Machiavellian plotting with our nation’s geopolitical foes? Then some on the left (including perhaps even some in the FBI) are all-in. Do you want to dangle “dirt” in front of eager, grasping grifters — even to the point where they’re willing to meet with known Russian operatives and assets? Then those grifters are all-in. Do you then want their apologists and allies to justify this recklessness as mere “opposition research”? Well, you’ll find no shortage of those partisans either.
What’s the common denominator? Americans who are eager to believe the absolute worst about their political opponents — to the point that they’ll sometimes even reach out to real enemies to help make their case. When it’s a “Flight 93” election, all bets are off. Even our foes become friends to defeat the Americans we despise.