White House

Republicans Must Reject ‘Russia Hoax’ Conspiracies and Examine the Evidence

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands at the conclusion of their town hall debate in St. Louis, Mo., October 9, 2016. (Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS )
Let’s find the truth and confront it fearlessly.

It’s time to put a conspiracy theory to rest. It’s time to debunk a hoax. The conspiracy theory goes like this: The Trump-Russia investigation from its inception represented an attempt by Hillary Clinton’s allies in the federal government to intervene in the election to help Clinton. Everything that has followed is thus the fruit of a poisonous tree of efforts to entrap or ensnare innocent, unsuspecting Trump-campaign officials or Trump allies, with a prosecutor bent on “manufacturing” process crimes through various “perjury traps” and other nefarious means.

Like many conspiracy theories, it gains credibility by referencing examples of actual troubling behavior (for example, the circumstances surrounding the Carter Page FISA warrant and the creation of the Steele dossier require further scrutiny), but it has from its inception suffered from fatal flaws. And now, as the sheer scale of the Trump team’s contacts with Russia starts to emerge, it’s time to relegate the “Russia hoax” theory to the dustbin of political history.

The idea that the FBI used the Russia investigation to intervene in the election to hurt Trump and help Clinton has always strained credulity. After all, the Russia investigation remained secret during the election while the FBI not only publicly reopened the Hillary email investigation, it also confirmed the existence of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation and exposed rifts with the Obama Department of Justice — casting the FBI as heroically resisting Obama-administration pressure to avoid any “overt steps” in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign.

Publicly the FBI torpedoed Clinton. Privately it investigated the Trump campaign.

And now, with each new revelation from the Mueller investigation, we understand that claims of “entrapment” are increasingly bizarre. The more we learn about Trump World’s contacts with Russians or Russian operatives, the more astounding it becomes. Consider this partial summary:

  • Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, lied to Congress about his contacts with a Russian government official as he tried to negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal deep into the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has lied about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged asset of Russian intelligence.
  • Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone (and Stone’s sidekick, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi) allegedly tried to communicate with WikiLeaks, a “hostile intelligence service,” to obtain advance information about Julian Assange’s planned document dumps.
  • Donald Trump’s son, campaign chairman, and son-in-law met with a purported Russian representative with the intention of receiving “official documents” as part of a “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
  • Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about his own contacts with a professor who “claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials” and who claimed to have access to “dirt” on Hillary in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Indeed, the list of known contacts between Russians and senior Trump officials (and Trump family members) keeps growing. In less partisan times they’d generate far more bipartisan concern. Even now, they should at the very least demolish the worst of the pro-Trump conspiracy theories.

This column is not an argument that these contacts swayed the election. They didn’t even, as far as we know, directly involve the Russian hacking. I continue to believe that many other factors were far, far more influential in Clinton’s defeat than Russia’s attempt to put its thumb on the scales. Nor does the available evidence yet indicate any personal involvement by Donald Trump. But these contacts do rebut repeated early denials from Trump and his team.

Remember, in 2017, Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” Hope Hicks said, “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

We are entering a strange time when Trump partisans — people who pride themselves on “America First” patriotism — look at the list of illegal lies about contacts with our chief geopolitical foe and fault American investigators for examining those contacts.

We are entering a strange time when too many Republicans look at a candidate’s efforts to reach a lucrative real-estate deal with that foe during his presidential campaign and call that “business as usual.” It’s especially strange when those same partisan Republicans were rightly intensely interested in the Clinton Foundation’s lucrative Russian contacts.

Under what reasoning is the FBI’s previous investigation of the Clinton Foundation legitimate but the investigation of copious contacts between the Russians and the Trump team illegitimate?

As in all investigations, the FBI and every other relevant arm of the federal government should be held to account when it departs from law or policy. If elements of the Trump investigation were tainted by partisan bias, we need to know. But, at this point, claims that the investigation itself is inherently illegitimate should be dismissed.

An entirely necessary and proper investigation may well be reaching its most crucial phase. As it does, it’s time for partisans to ditch conspiracy theories and reach mutual agreement to follow the evidence and apply the law to the facts without regard for personal affection or policy preference. Any other approach — either by pundits or politicians — fails their audience or their constituents.

The Trump team has surrounded the truth of its dealings with Russia with a bodyguard of lies. Not a single American should find that acceptable or excusable. Let’s find the truth and confront it fearlessly. No other approach will provide the justice and transparency America needs.

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