It never fails. Every single time there’s a new revelation in the Trump/Russia investigation, a cohort of Trump’s defenders will rush to Twitter or television and spout some version of the same line: “If you’re really worried about collusion, you’d be worried about the Hillary Clinton campaign’s collusion in creating the Steele dossier.” For example, here’s a tweet from the very sharp Mollie Hemingway:
I don't have a problem w/ getting dirt on election opponents from foreigners. But if you do, why was it OK for Hillary Clinton to secretly hire a foreign spy to get dirt on her opponent from Kremlin officials, and seed that info into the media and weaponize it in the US gov't?
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) July 27, 2018
And one from her colleague Sean Davis:
If foreign collusion upsets you, then
Steele’s actual collusion w/ Russians (funded by Hillary) should bother you more than the unproven collusion Steele merely alleges against Trump. That it doesn’t suggests the anti-Trump collusion hysteria is insincere. https://t.co/J5f2YTBL4T
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) July 29, 2018
Wait. Can’t I be worried about both?
As I wrote in a Twitter thread on Saturday morning, the 2016 election was a contest between terrible candidates. Obama’s Department of Justice should have prosecuted Hillary for mishandling classified information, and the various defenses of her campaign hiring a former foreign intelligence officer to dig up dirt (apparently using Russian sources) on Trump aren’t convincing. Yes, Christopher Steele enjoyed a good reputation, but his labor produced a dossier that’s yet to be verified (so far as we know) and instead appears to be a toxic pile of rumint that’s helped further divide Americans and raised dark questions about the president — questions that are yet to supported by any known evidence.
Doesn’t that sound exactly like the kind of thing that Vladimir Putin hoped to accomplish with his disruption operations? Doesn’t that suggest that the Russians may well have played Hillary’s team, with her team’s enthusiastic consent? Any comprehensive investigation of Russian interference has to include a thorough investigation of the dossier.
But at this point the Steele dossier is but one small part of an investigation that now could soon include formal allegations that Donald Trump knew and approved of his son’s meeting with a Russian operative in June 2016. I can be concerned about the Steele dossier, and I can be concerned that Trump’s team “took the meeting” with a representative of a hostile foreign power. I can be concerned about the Steele dossier and also be concerned that Trump confidante Roger Stone seemed to have advance knowledge that Wikileaks had obtained damaging emails from the John Podesta and the DNC. I can be concerned about the Steele dossier and also be concerned that Trump had surrounded himself with a constellation of advisers who had problematic (sometimes paid) ties to the Putin regime. I can be concerned about that George Papadopoulos had contact with a Russian-affiliated professor who told him (months before the WikiLeaks release) that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary, and I can be doubly concerned when he chose to lie to the FBI about those contacts.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m with Trey Gowdy on this key point — the Russia investigation would exist without the dossier:
The dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’s meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.
So, when there’s a new and damaging revelation in the Trump/Russia investigation, responding “but the dossier” — especially when the dossier isn’t relevant to the revelation — just doesn’t quite cut it.
Moreover, given the sheer multiplicity of grounds for concern about the Trump team’s contacts with Russia (and we haven’t event talked about the countless falsehoods and deceptions used to cover up those contacts) I must confess that I’m a bit more concerned about the conduct of the sitting president of the United States than I am about the failed Democratic candidate. He is the commander in chief, not her. His relationships with Russia are of far more urgent importance than hers. Investigate her, yes. But to the extent there’s a priority, prioritize POTUS.
Pointing out Hillary’s misconduct was and remains good and valuable for two reasons. First, it’s important to seek truth and justice, and no accounting of 2016 is complete without an accounting of Hillary’s actions. Second, it’s an important reminder that votes for Trump were not necessarily endorsements of Trump, but rather votes cast against his extremely unsavory opponent. But one must not get lost in whataboutism. Hillary’s misconduct is not a defense of Trump, and no amount of her misconduct can excuse any collusion or collaboration with a nation that is arguably America’s foremost geopolitical foe.