Monday, September 9, 2019

Stephen Cohen: Will Russia Hoax Questions Be Answered?

Commenter Forbes has brought to my attention a brief article by the well known Russia expert--and man of the left, even the far left--Stephen Cohen. Cohen, of course, is also well known--and notorious on the left--for his acid critique of the American Left's attempts to frame President Trump as a lackey of Vladimir Putin. I've addressed Cohen's view several times in the past. In his current blog, Cohen poses, without answering, what he views as key remaining questions regarding the Russia Hoax: What We Still Do Not Know About Russiagate: Vital questions about perhaps the worst alleged presidential scandal in US history remain unanswered.

Cohen concludes by pointing out a central fact of the Russia Hoax, and it is his insistence on raising this central fact that has caused him to be so excoriated by the Left:

First and foremost, Russiagate is about the present and future of the American political system, not about Russia. (Indeed, as I have repeatedly argued, there is very little, if any, Russia in Russiagate.)

Which is to say, in effect: The emperor has no clothes.

Thus, Cohen begins by pointing out, once again, how inherently implausible the whole hoax is. The allegations against Trump are ridiculous enough, but in Cohen's view the core absurdity is this:

Was it plausible ... that, as Steele also claimed, high-level Kremlin sources had fed him damning anti-Trump information even though their vigilant boss, Putin, wanted Trump to win the election?

Cohen goes on to present other implausibilities inherent in the Russia Hoax, support for most of which

persists, like a legend, in American political life—in media commentary, in financial solicitations by some Democratic candidates for Congress, and, as is clear from my own discussions, in the minds of otherwise well-informed people.

For proof of this persisting attachment to a legend among the elites of the media and American political life, see Aaron Maté's twitter thread from earlier today: There's been a pattern of intel leaks claiming to have high-level Russian sources followed by other intel leaks voicing concern that those sources are being exposed.

"The only way to dispel, to excoriate, such a legend," says Cohen, "is to learn and expose how it began—by whom, when, and why." And in that context, and with an eye to the future of the American political system, he presents two questions, the answers to which hold the key to the future. As it happens, both questions were addressed recently by J. E. Dyer--and answered, although I took exception to portions of Dyer's answer (Should We Care Whether There Are Indictments In The Russia Hoax?)

First of all, Cohen asks,

Why did Western intelligence agencies, prompted, it seems clear, by US ones, seek to undermine Trump’s presidential campaign? ... 
So, again, what was it about Trump that so spooked the spooks so far off their rightful reservation and so intrusively into American presidential politics?

The answer to this question, which Cohen doesn't answer, seems to be staring him in the face. It's the answer that J. E. Dyer offered. The Russia Hoax must be viewed as part of a broader and trans-national effort directed by a globalist Deep State against what has broadly been termed "populism"--the rising popular opposition to the agenda of the globalist Elite. The attempt to discredit and thwart Trump, therefore, was aimed not merely at the man but at discrediting the movement itself:

... it is instructive – indeed, essential – to extend our view abroad, and observe the similar animosity toward any leaders or national political forces showing signs of being “Trump”-like, whether the Brexiteers in the UK, the Salvini faction in Italy, the persistent gilets jaunes in France, the much-maligned “far right” leaders in Eastern Europe, or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. 
...  The project of Spygate was not to prevent Trump from being elected in 2016. The project of Spygate was to plant seeds for the aftermath of the 2016 election, whatever its outcome. 
...  It was about alarming the public, for a future with a much longer horizon.

Cohen's second question is one that we have addressed here on a continuing basis, and which I have answered differently that Dyer. Cohen poses this second question as a complex of questions, but the first part, in my mind, offers the key:

Are Barr and Durham, whose own careers include associations with US intelligence agencies, determined to uncover the truth about the origins of Russiagate? And can they really do so fully, given the resistance already apparent? Even if so, will Barr make public their findings, however damning of the intelligence agencies they may be, or will he classify them? And if the latter, will President Trump use his authority to declassify the findings as the 2020 presidential election approaches in order to discredit the role of Obama’s presidency and its would-be heirs?

My answer to this question remains the same. The key to understanding Barr's motivations does not lie in his past association with US intelligence agencies. Rather, it lies in his deep commitment to a Unitary Executive, a commitment of probably near 40 years duration. For a fairly programmatic exposition of Barr's views, see this example from Barr's days as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel: Common Legislative Encroachments On Executive Branch Authority. As the title itself makes clear, Barr's enduring commitment is not to the Intel Community at all--it's to the Unitary Executive. And that means Barr will do everything in his power to defend the Unitary Executive--which resides in the person of the POTUS, who is currently Donald J. Trump against Congressional encroachment.

This next part is key. Barr sees US political history since Watergate as the history of an imperial Legislative Branch that has coopted portions of the Executive Branch--breaking off portions of what should be a Unitary Executive. If you don't believe me, read Barr's memorandum, which he describes as follows:

This memorandum lists and briefly discusses a variety of common provisions of legislation that are offensive to principles of separation of powers, and to executive power in particular, from the standpoint of policy or constitutional law.

Barr has seen the Intel Community erect, over recent decades, a power base independent of the POTUS, and often allying itself with the Legislative Branch. In my view, Barr's aim is to reassert presidential control over the Intel Community, not to shield it from public disclosures. To do that he must get to the bottom of the Russia Hoax.

Cohen sees that, too--at least in part:

The FBI is no longer the fearsome organization it once was and thus not hard to investigate, as Barr has already shown. The others, particularly the CIA, are a different matter, and Barr has suggested they are resisting. To investigate them, particularly the CIA, it seems, he has brought in a veteran prosecutor-investigator, John Durham.

Cohen has doubts about Barr's resolve, and even his motives--but he doesn't seem to view Barr from the same perspective that I do. I don't doubt either his resolve or his motives, although resolve alone won't carry the day. Powerful forces are arrayed against Barr. We shall see the issue.


  1. Part of the answer regarding Barr's resolve is that resistance to his probes encourages/motivates that he's looking in the right place. The cliché about being over the target when flak is the heaviest seems apt.

    Barr has not been part of the Deep State apparatus for eons, so he has no ownership of nor entitlement to its prerogatives. His integrity and loyalty have no prior claim or conflict to interfere with the agenda at hand.

    I'm offering this from public appearances--I've no personal or insider knowledge.

    1. Times were different then, and the Deep State probably seemed different to its members back then, too.