Writing in mid-October, anno domini 2020, it is sobering to speculate that when the results of a certain upcoming political contest are finally decided, an item that has captivated the public’s attention for nearly four years might be about to evaporate without trace. I refer, of course, to that great long-running entertainment, the Trump-Russia Collusion Delusion.
As I write, the latest morceaux are the revelations from John Ratcliffe, the newly installed Director of National Intelligence, to the effect that Russian intelligence believed that Hillary Clinton had approved a plan ‘to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services’ during the 2016 presidential campaign. Why? Typical campaign dirty tricks, in part. But then there was also the bulletin, sent from the CIA to Peter Strzok, disgraced lovebird and then head of the FBI’s counterespionage section, minuting ‘Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private mail server’.
The watercress around those revelations were some heavily redacted handwritten notes by John Brennan regarding a meeting with President Obama, former FBI head James Comey and national security adviser Susan Rice about Hillary’s Russian dressing.
What was the recipe for that dressing? Take one washed-up former MI6 spy, Christopher Steele. Pay him through a complicated cutout to dig up, or at least make up, dirt about Donald Trump and ‘the Russians’. Include allegations of financial shenanigans, but for hot sauce include micturating Russian prostitutes hopping up and down on a hotel bed in Moscow in front of Donald Trump. Get your main ingredients from a suspected Russian spy named Igor Danchenko, formerly of the Brookings Institution. Bake until golden brown and then leak this steaming pile of opposition research, covertly bought and paid for by Hillary’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee as intelligence ‘findings’ rather than what they were: unbridled, malicious fabrication used as ‘evidence’ for several FISA warrants against Carter Page, a US citizen whose surveillance provided a back door into the Trump campaign.
I doubt that we will ever get to the bottom of this sordid story. Every month, it seems, the list of dramatis personae lengthens. Back in the innocent days of 2017, the New York Times brought the world the thrilling news that the key was George Papadopoulos, a low-level Trump campaign worker fresh off his stint at a Model UN camp. He spent a drunken evening with somebody called Alexander Downer, you see, who turned out to be an Australian diplomat, and said something about Russians having dirt on Hillary.
But it wasn’t a drunken evening. It was one gin and tonic and besides, the little Greek boy was soon displaced by a kaleidoscope of characters: the mysterious Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud (remember him?); the long- time intelligence operative Stefan Halper, who framed the Russian-born British academic Svetlana Lokhova — the one genuine Russian in this entire saga (leaving Danchenko out of account) — falsely claiming that she was a Russian asset who laid a honey trap for Gen. Mike Flynn… Shall I go on?
There are two things to note about this morality tale. The first is that every revelation makes the whole picture murkier. What exactly was John Brennan’s involvement? How about James Comey? How about Barack Obama or Joe Biden?
More and more has been revealed. Less and less, finally, is known. There is a vast skein of suspicion but only little tidbits of explicit malfeasance. An FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith doctored an email. Originally it said that Carter Page was a CIA source. To help get that FISA warrant, Clinesmith helpfully inserted the word ‘not’. He has pleaded guilty, but only in the most circuitous way. The only people to get dawn raids, it seems, or to go to jail are associates of Donald Trump.
So where are we? In the general course of things such dramatic revelations bust open a case. So far in this case, they just muddy the waters. And then there is that ticking sound that you hear in the background. It is the clock counting down the minutes. To what? To the second thing to note about this story: the election. There really is a bottom to this exercise in narrative exfoliation. Maybe John Durham could untangle it all, had he but world enough and time. It is not clear that he will.
I am going to stick my neck out and say again what I have been saying for months: I think that Trump, despite what our pundits and polls tell us, will win in November. Indeed, I think he will win convincingly, well beyond the margin of fraud or what one legal pal of mine calls ‘the margin of litigation’.
Hunter Biden has done me a big favor by abandoning a laptop computer chock full of compromising material at the repair shop. As all the world knows now, in addition to, ah, unsavory pictures and videos of Hunter pursuing his usual recreational activities, the hard drive contained emails detailing Hunter’s get-rich-quick schemes that involved introducing various fat cats to his father, then-VP of the United States, in exchange for piles and piles of Benjamins: $50,000 to $80,000 a month from the corrupt Ukrainian energy company Burisma, $10 million per annum for ‘introductions alone’ from a Chinese energy company, etc. No wonder Rudy Giuliani, through whose good offices this story was first broadcast, refers to the ‘Biden crime family’. I already thought Donald Trump was going to win before the New York Post began publishing excerpts of from these incriminating emails on October 14. Now I am convinced of it.
But what if I am wrong? Then the last chapter of this mystery will never be written: the one where we learn what really happened to the characters we’ve been following with bated breath all these years. William Barr will no longer be attorney general. John Durham will no longer be on the case. That party will be over. Last one to leave, turn out the lights and don’t worry about the mess. Someone else will clean it up.
They used to have elections here, and they mattered. The person who won governed. Those who lost did the right thing in public, no matter what they felt privately. But that was before the current dispensation, which criminalizes policy differences and thrives on that moral stupefaction we call, without irony, ‘wokeness’. Now there is but one party, though it may claim two names to keep up appearances. There were rumors going around about misconduct in the FBI, the CIA, even in Barack Obama’s White House. But they have been discredited, or at least forgotten.
All that’s if I am wrong about Trump winning the election. If I am right? Then I look forward to reading that last chapter.
This article is in The Spectator’s November 2020 US edition