Politico

Opinion | There’s Not a Russian Under Every Bed


The Russians haven’t loomed so large as a dark, sinister hand influencing the course of American society since the Red Scares of the 20th century.

Then, it was largely the right that warned of Russian infiltration; now it is progressives who see Russians altering the course of American history through dark manipulations.

No one should have any illusions about Vladimir Putin, whose authoritarian regime invades foreign countries and poisons critics. Russia has meddled in Western elections, including here in the United States in 2016 and, per a recent briefing from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, again in 2020. (Russia has obtained voter information.)

But the left’s overwhelming focus on Russia has taken on the trappings of a conspiracy theory with a comforting monocausal explanation for everything: Russia did it.

Hillary Clinton didn’t blow on her own a winnable election in 2016; she was undone by a Kremlin conspiracy.

Donald Trump hasn’t said ridiculous things about Putin because he has wildly unrealistic expectations of one day being able to cut a deal with him and bristles at saying whatever the media and establishment want him to say; he’s controlled by Moscow.

We aren’t a bitterly divided country, as we’ve been through much of our history, with an inherently contentious political and legal culture; the Russians are “sowing divisions.”

And, finally, a Delaware laptop repairman didn’t come into possession of Hunter Biden’s laptop with what appear to be damaging emails about Hunter Biden’s business dealings through a strange happenstance; it was faked and planted by the Russians.

Oddly, the left had a relatively indulgent attitude toward Russia when it was one of the world’s two superpowers, armed to the teeth, engaged in nuclear brinkmanship with the United States, in control of a swath of Europe, including half of Germany, and devoted to spreading revolution around the globe. But it is obsessed with Russia now that the country has a GDP smaller than Italy’s and some hackers and poorly trafficked websites spreading bad information.

This fixation on Russia obviously drove the yearslong Russian collusion investigation that got rolling in part on the basis of fictions from Russians passed along via the Steele dossier. It also drives the ridiculous magnification of small-time pro-Russia players and the belief that the Russians have a hand in nearly every significant American event.

The New York Times published an article in April titled “Putin’s long war against American science.” Barack Obama tweeted out the piece, touting it as “a look at how misinformation can spread through social media, and why it can hurt our ability to respond to crises.”

At the investigative website Bellingcat, Aric Toler noted that one news-aggregation website featured in the Times piece, The Russophile, is a one-person operation run by a Swedish blogger with about 5,000 followers on Twitter. On top of this, according to Toler, the Times took the probably fake physical address of the website and botched its location to place it, per the Times, in “an imposing building next door to the offices of Lukoil, a Russian oil giant tied to Cambridge Analytica’s digital campaigns to sway American voters.”

Toler points out that a tweet from the Russophile account fastened onto by the Times garnered all of one retweet and two likes.

After the death of George Floyd, former national security adviser Susan Rice took this exaggerated view of Russian influence to its illogical conclusion, saying the disorder on American streets was “right out of the Russian playbook.” This is lunacy.

It is understandable, in contrast, to have questions about the provenance of the Hunter Biden laptop and doubts about the credibility of the two men who brought it to light, Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon. The former New York mayor has been tramping around Ukraine in the company of disreputable people—setting off flashing red lights for U.S. intelligence—while Bannon was recently indicted for his alleged role in a brazen grift.

Perhaps it will turn out that that the laptop really is part of a Russian disinformation operation. Ratcliffe, a Trump ally, says it’s not. For its part, the FBI hasn’t contradicted him, although in a lawyerly and carefully crafted statement.

There’s no reason to take the leap, though, and treat it as gospel truth that Russia is pulling the strings. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who has spent four solid years jumping to conclusions on Russia, told CNN that “we know that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin.”

How does he know? Schiff isn’t telling. The Biden camp has yet to say the emails from the laptop are fakes. Its response to an email alleging that Hunter Biden set up a meeting between a Ukrainian businessman and his father, Joe Biden, was to check the then-vice president’s schedule and say no such meeting had taken place, at least not formally.

A former business partner of Hunter’s vouches for the authenticity of another email about a potential deal with a Chinese company.

It’s not as though the story told by the emails hasn’t, in broad contours, been out there already. The New Yorker published a long story in July 2019 about Hunter’s foreign business dealings, including the memorable detail of a Chinese energy tycoon giving him a gift of a 2.8 carat diamond. POLITICO ran a report in August 2019 in which former associates of Hunter and James Biden, Joe’s brother, said the two had sought to profit from their proximity to Joe. (A spokesperson for Hunter and James Biden disputed details of the report.)

We should have a little national self-confidence. The phenomenon of the families of powerful politicians trying to benefit from their connections isn’t a Russian fabrication—it’s as American as apple pie.

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Lisa

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