Two old stories made headlines again today, both Trump-Russia. Neither one is news.
A short time ago, Rep. Devin Nunes (R. Calif.), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, held a brief press conference in which he stated he was on his way to the White House to inform the President about a recent discovery. He’s apparently learned of certain conversations that the government recorded during routine operations — conversations including members of the Trump campaign and transition staff. Apparently, rather a lot was monitored during what he referred to as “incidental collection”.
And, in a somewhat related story, the AP has released an exclusive report on former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and his ties to high-ranking Russian businessmen in specific and the Putin administration in general. This report contains details of a proposal between a shell corporation run by Manafort and one Oleg Deripaska, Russian industrialist and Putin ally. In it, Manafort pledged to improve the image of Putin and the Kremlin in western countries and throughout Europe.
Neither of these is news.
Let’s start with Nunes, since that’s simple. Two weeks ago, he announced that the committee he chairs would be holding hearings aimed at finding the truth behind allegations that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump’s offices during his presidential campaign. Among the things he pledged to investigate were the circumstances behind the recording of conversations between the Russian Ambassador and Trump advisor (and later, briefly, NSA head) Michael Flynn. According to a Washington Post story at the time, Nunes was interested in finding how much was recorded in “incidental collection”.
During the hearings, he learned nothing that wasn’t broadcast on national television. He’s rushing to the White House as a cheap publicity stunt. Oh, there may well be a meeting of substance, but if so it won’t be on this topic.
Manafort is much longer story, but it can be boiled down to this: He’s a particularly slimy and unprincipled lawyer, a mercenary, a hired P.R. gun who has spent more than three decades whitewashing the reputations of the scum of the earth. He started off legitimizing UNITA in Angola, then worked at times for Ferdinand Marcos, Seku of Zaire, and zillions of others including on a disinformation op for Pakistani Intelligence back when they were trying to conceal terrorism in Kashmir. The Center for Public Integrity labeled his firm and four others as the “Torturer’s Lobby” in a particularly damning report back in 1992.
In short, we knew all this about Manafort decades ago and did nothing about it. When Trump hired him, it was considered somewhat appropriate; he’s the best in the business at making the unlikeable liked. And, while his firm has never been accused of overvaluing ethics, he has scrupulously avoided mixing the interests of his various clients — a survival tactic, as these are generally the sorts of people that have you killed for that.
And so, again: This is not news. This isn’t even tangentially news. Paul Manafort was scum when Trump hired him, and he was hired to be the most effective scum he could be. Since Trump is now president, it can be argued that Manafort did his job very well. And, to be perfectly plain: Every major political candidate hires someone like Manafort or they don’t get elected.
My guess is, Justice may well have had unauthorized wiretaps on Manafort any number of times in his career. He’s exactly the sort of slime that would make most law enforcement officers think strongly about bending professional ethics just that little bit. It’s highly likely that U.S. Intelligence would have routinely tapped his phones, monitored his email, bugged his person, and done any number of things to learn the secrets he helped hide for a living. And a big part of me is just fine with them doing that, campaign or no campaign.
Which is how these two stories are linked, as it happens. Manafort is unscrupulous slime, and he directed a presidential campaign. Of course major campaign advisors were engaged in activities that were less than perfectly ethical; that’s almost a given. As to whether or not they had any idea what they were doing wasn’t quite kosher… well, if Manafort told them to, that means they were advised by a lawyer that they could.
This is the truth behind the Russia story. It’s sordid and uninteresting, and no amount of investigation will ever make it otherwise. You know it, I know it, and everyone involved has known it all for years.
It’s not at all worrisome that the press would put these things back into the headlines. After all, there’s nothing much to report on at the moment. Aside from a terror attack in London near Parliament (on the anniversary of the Brussels bombing) — a Parliament which apparently just voted to go forward with BrExit, and the repercussions that may have with the present Scottish independence movement. Oh, and this whole thing with Angela Merkel, and the nastiness that is the school rape immigrant case, and let’s not forget NASA’s new Mission To Mars and U.S. boots on the ground in Syria.
Wait — you missed all that? Hunh. Go figure.