Friday, May 26, 2017

The Russia Story Just Became A Bigger Deal

Florida GOP consultant Aaron Nevins
Well, folks. Things are heating up in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that, beyond hacked Clinton emails and DNC memos, the hacker known as "Guccifer 2.0" also sent analyses of Democratic voter turnout in Florida to a GOP political operative named Aaron Nevis.

Nevis apparently told Guccifer to "Feel free to send any Florida based information." This information was then posted to Nevis's blog at HelloFLA.com, which he runs under the pseudonym "Mark Miewurd." This was in the form of both direct links and links to Guccifer 2.0's web site here.

Naturally, Guccifer is denying any links to the Russian government. Also naturally, Nevis's blog does not contain anything that shows that he pursued Guccifer to obtain these data -- at least, not initially. However, according to the Wall Street Journal article, Nevis did set up a DropBox account to receive large files, and ended up with 2.5 G of data from the DCCC ... which was then published on HelloFLA.com.

Links to these data were also sent to Roger Stone who, at the time, was an "informal adviser" to then-candidate trump. Stone denies any involvement with Russia with regard to elections, and says that he has not been contacted by the FBI. He confirmed that he did receive a link to the HelloFLA blog article about the stolen data from Guccifer, but says that he never shared it with anyone.

In addition to posting this material on his blog, Nevis also passed some along to journalists in Florida. However, he did not use any these data in his consulting business running grassroots-style campaigns for landowners and corporations seeking to have an influence in local politics.
According to U. S. officials in the intelligence community, Guccifer 2.0 is linked to Russian military intelligence (of course, Guccifer denies a link).

The FBI and Congressional committees are currently looking into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Russia denies any meddling, as well as any links to Gucifer 2.0. These inquiries have also encompassed Stone's potential involvement, say sources familiar with the inquiries.

So those are the facts as reported by the Wall Street Journal, a publication which absolutely nobody in their right mind could accuse of being in the tank for liberals. Now for the speculative -- highly speculative -- bits of this article. Fair warning: what follows sounds insane, and there are going to be those who would ship me off to a rubber room as a result. Understand that this is an exercise in speculation only; there is absolutely zero solid evidence of any of the following hypotheses. Moving right along ...

In February 2016, mere nanoseconds after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senator Mitch McConnell stepped in front of the microphones to announce that the Senate would not -- repeat, NOT -- consider a replacement nominee from Obama, citing some "rule" he just made up about presidents not being allowed to nominate Supreme Court justices in the final year of their term. This was based on the so-called "Biden Rule," in which Joe Biden, in a 1992 speech, said it was advisable for a president in the midst of a re-election campaign not to nominate a Supreme Court justice until after the election -- win or lose -- to avoid politicizing the nomination.

This was different from the "rule" McConnell cited in the following ways: first, Biden was speaking hypothetically, as there were no open seats on the bench at the time. Second, he was talking about a sitting president in the last year of his first term who was running for re-election. Third, he very clearly stipulated that the nomination should proceed after the election regardless of the outcome.

Despite these conditions, and despite the fact that all polling at the time showed the GOP trailing the Democrats by a wide margin, McConnell stated that postponing nomination hearings until after the election was the best way to protect "the voice of the American people" ... even though the American public had already spoken by electing President Obama -- twice.

This leads to one of two conclusions regarding McConnell's behavior.

One the one hand, he may have been speaking out of hubris and gambling that a Republican was going to win despite the odds. This is completely out of character for McConnell. He has never been a gambler ... rather, he is a very shrewd, highly partisan politician who does not make any moves unless he already knows what the outcome is going to be.

On the other hand, perhaps he already knew what the outcome would be. Recent revelations that Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and other House Republicans were aware of Russian influence fairly early on but chose to remain silent would insinuate that McConnell knew about this stuff too. And if he knew that Russia was screwing around with the election, and that trump was going to win as a result, then this would satisfy his "need to know beforehand" condition.

My vote is for the latter. It seems to me that McConnell not only knew about Russian interference, but perhaps even had a hand in planning and executing it ... and he has been very skilled at keeping his hands clean of the matter.

I strongly believe that Russian interference in the election of 2016 goes much deeper than Guccifer 2.0 and a small-time operative in Florida. My hunch is that it extends to the highest levels of Congress. I sincerely believe that Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Jason Chaffitz, and several other members of both the House and the Senate were complicit in delegitimizing the election and getting trump elected through illegal means, all in the name of retaining power. I also think this effort began almost immediately after the 2012 election, and that 2014 was sort of a proof of concept.

If you recall, polling was off for that election as well. According to every poll at the time, the Democrats were supposed to retain control of the Senate and reduce the lead of the Republicans in the House, and state races were more or less even. What actually happened was that the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time since 2006, they increased their majority in the House, and they won 31 governorships and majorities in 68 state legislative chambers. While there was no evidence of Russian interference back then, in hindsight it is plausible that the 2014 election was a test run for 2016.

To put on the tin foil hat for a moment, this hypothesis makes a bit of sense. Consider that the first thing the Republicans did after getting control of both chambers was to institute a policy of "Nobama" across the board, obstructing everything the President tried to do, no matter how trivial. During the 114th Congress, we saw a lot of nothing being done ... the Republicans refused to even discuss anything, much less vote on anything, unless it was clear that obstruction was political suicide. At the time people were baffled by this approach, but when viewed through the "Russia Conspiracy" lens it starts to become slightly more understandable.

Stipulating that this is true, then, the question becomes: why did it become such a clusterfuck in this election? If the Russians had meddled in the midterms, they had done so without leaving a trace. So why did it become public this time around?

There are currently two theories concerning this. The first is sheer arrogance -- they figured that, since 2014 had gone so smoothly, 2016 would be a cakewalk and they got sloppy. Perhaps Russia had used internal security personnel in 2014 and contracted out in 2016 to try to further detach themselves, or maybe they were spooked by the Republican Clown Car in the primaries and were worried that their orange puppet wouldn't secure the nomination. Regardless, assuming that Guccifer 2.0 was their contracted distributor, they chose poorly in that this person was less than discreet.

The second theory is that McConnell actually masterminded the leaks as a way of discrediting political opponents in the House. By casting Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and others, as co-conspirators, he could then politically castrate them and install people that he favored, which -- combined with a pliable stooge as president (he thought) -- would allow him to push through his agenda pretty much unimpeded ... and maybe set himself up for the White House (although, to be fair, he has given absolutely zero indication in any interest in this).

All of this sounds like a plot line in "House of Cards," I get that. As I said, speculation only. But it does make you think.

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