Saturday, May 16, 2020

Making A Mess Of Unmasking

Just Security's Ryan Goodman games out where the Trump regime goes next on the totally worthless "Obamagate" attacks, because of course the Hunter Biden/Ukraine and the Tara Reade allegations both fell through.

President Donald Trump insists, against all evidence, that there is something called “Obamagate”: some crime, or perhaps series of crimes, that the preceding administration committed against him, or against his adviser Michael Flynn, or maybe against even more of the Trump team. Yet the president fails to say what the crime(s) might be. Instead, he seizes on the language, alludes to improprieties, and—increasingly—wields it all to tar his rival for the presidency, Joe Biden. Countering Trumpian disinformation campaigns like this one demands disentangling the threads that Trump has weaved into “Obamagate,” debunking the falsehoods that Trump is propagating—and, at the same time, acknowledging where there may in fact have been serious missteps during the previous administration.

That means acknowledging that there may well be a lurking truth to a serious allegation against former government officials in how they handled the counterintelligence file involving Michael Flynn. However, there is no evidence that those actions implicate President Barack Obama or Vice President Biden personally, or discredit the legitimacy of the investigations of Russia’s 2016 election interference, the investigation of Trump campaign associates’ support for the Kremlin’s effort, officials’ requests to “unmask” a U.S. person appearing in intelligence reports who turned out to be Flynn, the FBI’s decision to interview Flynn, or the Justice Department’s charging Flynn for lying to the FBI.

That said, there has been a rush by many to say that no crime has been credibly alleged, and that no serious wrongdoing by former administration officials has been identified. That’s an oversight, and fails to grapple with a potential outcome: the prospect of well-founded criminal indictments against one or more former officials who leaked the content of the classified intercept of the Dec. 29, 2016 phone call between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Flynn’s identity in that communication.

As I’ll explain, the issue here is not limited to the initial leak by a senior government official to the journalist David Ignatius who revealed the Flynn-Kislyak phone call in the pages of the Washington Post on the evening of Jan. 12, 2017.

Independent observers and analysts should understand the strength of the allegations of misconduct, which could trigger criminal liability. Indeed, it is valuable to identify any credible complaints of official wrongdoing, and separate those from Trump’s deceptive and deliberately false accusations.

As for practitioners who are engaged in countering disinformation, they should consider how this foreseeable outcome of one or more criminal indictments will be used by Trump, his Attorney General Bill Barr, and the Director of National Intelligence (whether Rick Grenell or John Ratcliffe) to conflate truth and falsehoods. Indeed, the failure to have appreciated the seriousness of the allegations will bolster Trump and his surrogates’ disinformation campaign. It will be used to discredit analysts. They will be accused of dishonesty and bias, not just of an analytic oversight. More Americans will be encouraged to think of Trump and his political loyalists as validated sources of information. And the public will be left with even less ability to sort fact from fiction.

Indeed, a well-orchestrated disinformation tactic, pioneered by Soviet intelligence, would involve the following steps:

Phase One: Make grossly unfounded claims of misconduct by former and current US officials (such as a Deep State conspiracy to undercut the Trump 2016 campaign and the Trump presidency), anticipating a reaction among experts and partisans to challenge those claims;

Phase Two: Reveal true official misconduct that has some, even if limited, connection to the original conspiracy theory, with experts and partisans failing to adequately anticipate or recognize the true misconduct, and some even quick to dismiss it.

Phase One of this disinformation campaign is well underway.

How likely is a key step in Phase Two, namely, the genuine revelation of official misconduct? Barr’s handpicked federal prosecutor John Durham reportedly has in the crosshairs of his ongoing criminal investigation the leaks to the media. Attorney General Bill Barr has signaled confidence that Durham will find criminal wrongdoing (in gross defiance of long-standing Justice Department policy to refrain from any acknowledgement, let alone comments on the prospective outcome, of an ongoing investigation). What’s more, several former senior officials told Congress, under penalty of law, that they were not the source of the leak, either in closed testimony that the House Committee on Intelligence released last week or in prior public hearings. That may create another layer of legal vulnerability if a source of the leak denied it to Congress.

In other words:

Bill Barr finds somebody to prosecute for leaking things to the Washington Post, specifically that Michael Flynn's name was leaked to David Ignatius.

This is somehow proof of a massive conspiracy that must be investigated into the election season.

Targeted leaks from Barr and Trump will keep the "story" going, along with a trial almost certainly set for October. 

This doesn't change the fact Michael Flynn lied multiple times to FBI investigators, admitted that he did so twice, and was convicted for it.

That's it.

Repeat that to yourself daily for the rest of the year.

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