Award-winning author, journalist Max Blumenthal and The Real News’ Aaron Mate discuss the ongoing media frenzy over Trump and Russia, as polls showing Americans are tiring of Russiagate and U.S.-Russia tensions remain high
Aaron Maté: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Since Donald Trump’s election, leading Democrats have claimed that he and Vladimir Putin are in cahoots. A new Pentagon intelligence report paints a starkly different picture of where things are at. The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that, quote, “The Kremlin is convinced the U.S. is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia.” The report cites the events in Ukraine where the U.S. helped oust a pro-Russian president in 2014. The U.S. and Russia also remain at odds in Syria, where U.S. forces have targeted the Assad regime and its allies. A recent poll found that the majority of Russians see the U.S. as the single biggest military threat to their country. Now, compare all of this to the ongoing hoopla over “Russiagate.” Alleged Russian meddling and Trump-Russia collusion remains a political and media preoccupation. The most recent entry was a major story in the Washington Post. Among many things, it claimed a source deep within the Russian government told the U.S. that Putin had ordered a campaign to help elect Donald Trump. The report is based on interviews with dozens of unnamed officials. Well, to discuss this report and Russiagate, I spoke to Max Blumenthal, award-winning author, journalist, and senior editor for AlterNet’s Gray Zone project. And I began by quoting from the Washington Post story, which called the alleged Russian meddling, quote, “In political terms, the crime of the century.” Max Blumenthal: Well first of all, my take is that 9/11 was a bigger crime. That might be a controversial thing to say now that we’re friends with Al Qaeda, but I don’t think this was the crime of the century. And also, if it’s the crime of the century, you have to kind of get away with it. But let’s step back from the Washington Post story and talk about what’s happening to the whole … the whole Russian narrative’s falling apart. CNN for the first time, CNN being the central neo-con narrator, has actually retracted one of countless bogus stories about Russian collusion, mainly because it appears that they risked legal action from Jim Scaramucci, who was accused of secretly colluding with Russian business interests. It looks like the three reporters behind the story were suspended. CNN management executives have asserted their power and said that all Russia reporting has to go through them and be vetted. And that’s because Scaramucci was able to actually respond and threaten CNN. Russian officials can’t respond. There’s so many other people CNN has gone after and accused of Russian collusion who don’t have the same ability to hold the reporters accountable. Tim Ryan, the representative from Ohio, has openly questioned the political efficacy of the Russian narrative, and said, “Why the hell are we talking about Russia all the time? We just lost this special election in Georgia and we’re not talking about jobs. We’re starting to see push back from Congressional Democrats about the use of Russia as a political tool.” And he basically what I’ve been saying all along, which is that this is an elitist narrative that might play well inside the Beltway and in midtown Manhattan, and among Aaron Sorkin liberals in Hollywood who think Kamala Harris is the future of the party. But it doesn’t really play well with real people who have been impacted by corporate free trade and austerity, and are fighting for their health care. So that’s the background. Then you have Jeh Johnson’s testimony, the former Department of Homeland Security Director, who … it’s amazing the Democrats have managed to make Trey Gowdy the grand inquisitor of Bengazi look sensible. Gowdy absolutely destroyed Johnson when he asked … After Johnson said that it is an absolute fact that Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC, Gowdy asked, “Have you ever seen the servers? Why didn’t the DHS or the FBI, which operates under DHS umbrella, demand the servers for the DNC?” And Johnson just couldn’t answer, and he said, “Yeah, we’ve never had access to the DNC’s email servers.” Next thing you know, Jake Tapper, who’s been pushing the Russia hysteria for weeks and weeks and weeks … And it’s never good to be early on questioning a narrative in mainstream media. You always have to come late, then it’s okay. Tapper actually directed a tweet at the DNC asking why they resisted handing the servers over to the FBI and the U.S. government, and the DNC issued a really contorted statement that didn’t answer the question. So the one thing that’s been missing all along in this whole tale where we see private, for-profit firms like CrowdStrike and FireEye attempt to produce forensics that supposedly prove that Russia hacked the DNC, the one thing that’s been missing is human intelligence. And so the Washington Post comes forward with this story that claims to have some kind of human intelligence asserting that Putin personally directed the hacking, and that Obama was too weak to stand up to Putin and basically was rolled in the end. Aaron Maté: On the point of Russiagate being out of touch with voters’ concerns, there was just a poll done by Harvard-Harris which found that 64 percent of voters said the investigations into Trump and Russia are hurting the country. An even bigger number, 73 percent, said they’re concerned the Russia probes have caused Congress to lose focus on the issues important to them. Max Blumenthal: Well, that’s remarkable and those numbers remind me of the kind of … of the exit polling we saw on the evening that Jeremy Corbyn came within 2,000 votes of being British Prime Minister, really reflects a public turning away from a corporate media narrative that’s just been rammed down their throats and searching for alternative sources of information, and basically voting for their own economic interests against the elite media. In many ways, the constant claims of Russian collusion and Russian attacks, and the constant scandal mongering which has immunized the public against the mainstream media, and most Americans … The other thing is, as Reagan said, American’s don’t vote on foreign policy. They want to hear about kitchen table issues, and they’re not hearing about that from the scandal-obsessed Democratic Party. So I think we’re going to start to see this narrative fall away. But what the Washington Post has done is basically served as a megaphone for John Brennan, the former CIA director, and really revealed Brennan as the ringleader of the leaks and the whole Russia campaign. It’s actually Brennan, former CIA director, former director of Obama’s global drone wars, who stimulated the so-called resistance, the organized liberal grassroots against Trump, with these leaks, which is really troubling. And when I read this story, I was expecting some bombshell. I’m not going to totally rule out that Russia had an interest in meddling to elect Trump after Hillary Clinton compared Putin to Hitler, and after what we did to them in Ukraine. But I couldn’t find the bombshell material in this report. All I saw was more leaks and more anonymous officials claiming that Obama hadn’t acted strongly enough and that we need to sanction Russia more harshly. We need more brinksmanship and more saber rattling against Russia because the hack was so extreme. And then when I looked for evidence of the hack, you just simply see an assertion of cyber forensics with no evidence. There’s one reference to a source from inside Russia, and the language in the article is, “Some of the most critical and technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.” And then you know, as you read further, you start … you’re led to believe that we should have viewed it with high confidence. That’s the human intelligence I mentioned before. How do we know that source was not Sergei Millian, who is “Source D” from the dodgy dossier known as the “Steel Memo,” who was the one who claimed that Trump was urinated upon by prostitutes at the Ritz Hotel in Moscow, that this was filmed, and that Putin was using it as kompromat against Trump. How do we know that that’s not the source? We don’t. And so, there’s still so many questions, and meanwhile the Democrats are in a state of complete crisis for having pushed this absurd narrative. We have moved closer to war in Syria, and I think that’s a side effect of Russia hysteria. ISIS has been de-prioritized. I don’t see anything good coming out of this, and so we have to start to ask questions not only about the political efficacy of pushing Russia for the Democrats. But also look at the merits of the allegations, and look at the evidence and demand answers. Aaron Maté: Yeah, Max. Quickly. On the issue of sourcing, the Post also claims that the U.S. intelligence had a source deep inside Putin’s government, which seems curious because …. Max Blumenthal: That’s who I was referring to; it’s Sergei Millian. This is how he was framed in the Steel Memo, was a source close to Putin deep within the Kremlin. Aaron Maté: And on the issue of the critique there of Obama’s response, it was funny to me how they tried to spin it because they say that one reason why Obama didn’t respond very forcefully, even after they supposedly knew of all this meddling, is that they feared any action would be seen as political, and that Putin, motivated by a seething resentment of Clinton, was prepared to go beyond fake news and email dumps. Max Blumenthal: Right, right. That Obama was supposedly afraid of Putin. There’s really no evidence of that, and if you look closely at the language that the Washington Post used about fake news, it’s never established that Putin was deploying fake news, so that kind of falls apart. But what we have here is Brennan and what you could call the “Deep State” or the national security state expressing the resentment of Obama. Why did they resent Obama? Because the one area where Obama demonstrated some boldness and actually stood up against the Washington playbook was on Syria. He simply refused to abide by the Red Line policy and enact a war of regime change back in 2013. Instead, he cut a deal with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, to destroy Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons and to not intervene. And Obama actually described this as one of his wisest decisions. I would completely agree because you would be looking at Syria … Syria would resemble Libya right now, but in the heart of the Middle East. Lebanon might have been overrun by ISIS at this point. And Obama has been mercilessly attacked by former intelligence officials ever since, and Brennan is one of them. So this whole story is framed to humiliate Obama. Syria isn’t mentioned, but that’s the real elephant in the room. Aaron Maté: Yeah, Max, and also connecting this also to Russia, he also was vilified inside the foreign policy establishment for refusing to send lethal arms to the fighters in Ukraine who were taking on Russia-backed forces. Max Blumenthal: That’s a great point. That is a great point. Obama saw that sending more arms to the Ukrainian military, which were then being funneled to the militias, including neo-Nazi militias, literal neo-Nazi militias like the Aidar battalion, the Azov battalion, were leading to a counter escalation and that more arms would flow into Russian separatists, and this would increase not only tensions but casualties and misery for the civilian population in the Donetsk region. So it was a wise decision. It was a decision that was opposed by the arms industry. Hillary Clinton, who was supported by the arms industry at a much greater rate than Trump, opposed Obama’s decision and supported sending arms to the Ukrainian military. And during the Republican Convention, language was inserted without the knowledge of Trump’s foreign policy team supporting sending arms to the Ukrainian military. That language was removed to comport with the policy of Obama, and Trump was promptly accused of colluding with Russia for failing to send more weapons in it. You know, once again there’s no evidence of collusion. It’s just seemed like a wise policy that anyone even remotely oriented towards peace building, de-escalation and diplomacy would favor. So yeah, there’s that. And Obama has been … he’d pretty much given the national security state everything else they wanted, but you can see how aggressive they are and how they won’t relent. And it’s John Brennan who’s really sort of the face of the radical elements within the national security state that still want more saber rattling against Syria, against Russia, and would probably favor escalation in Ukraine. Aaron Maté: Max Blumenthal, award-winning author, journalist, and senior editor for AlterNet’s Grey Zone project. Thanks very much. Max Blumenthal: Thanks for having me. Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.