Leakgate Finds Its Joe McCarthy
On Trump-Russia links, Rep. Schiff tries to fool the public with randomness.
By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.
Wall Street Journal
If Donald Trump tweeted his accusations about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower to get the media off his alleged ties to Russia, then Democrats at Monday’s hearing of the House Intelligence Committee used those same tweets to distract from their lack of goods on alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Adam Schiff, the California Democrat and ranking member, not once but twice on “Meet the Press” touted “circumstantial evidence of collusion.”
He tweeted the same words again almost as soon as he got off the air.
Then why were his first questions the next day to FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency chief Adm. Michael Rogers instead about the Trump charges?
Whatever their merits, the Trump tweets came four months after the election. They have no bearing on the alleged “collusion.” Indeed, if evidence of Trump-Russia collusion is as rampant as Mr. Schiff claims, it seems a mite odd to be stressing Team Obama’s failure to put Trump Tower under surveillance.
The witnesses sat mostly stone-faced while the politicians spun, but they did vouchsafe a few interesting tidbits.
On the claim that Russia wasn’t merely trying to hurt Mrs. Clinton but to help Mr. Trump, supposedly a key intelligence-agency insight, this was mostly a matter of “logic”: In a two-person race, hurting one necessarily means helping the other.
The Russians made little effort to conceal their meddling. Their “loudness,” said the FBI’s Mr. Comey, suggested “their No. 1 mission” was to discredit U.S. democracy by “freaking people out about how the Russians might be undermining our elections.”
NSA’s Adm. Rogers said to expect more of the same, since the Russians evidently see a “positive outcome” in “calling into question the democratic process.”
As for Rep. Schiff, a former prosecutor, he should know better than to treat “circumstantial evidence” as a synonym for guilt by association.
There isn’t room to detail the fantastically trivial basis for his portrayal of Trump pilot fish Roger Stone as an intimate of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and alleged hacker Guccifer 2.0, or the utter fatuity of his attempt to place pilot fish Carter Page at the center of Russia’s recent sale of a Rosneft stake to a Qatari investment fund.
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier tried to paint five visits of then-Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to the White House in 2014 as nefarious, neglecting to mention that these were visits to the Obama White House and that the purpose of the intensive meetings was to avoid an Arctic environmental disaster from a strict by-the-letter compliance with anti-Russia sanctions.
Intoned Mr. Schiff in the manner of a man uncovering a self-evident conspiracy: “Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible.”
But what of the question that usually excites conspiracy theorists like Mr. Schiff: Cui bono—who benefits?
It’s impossible to know whether Russia’s DNC leaks accounted for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, though it hardly seems likely. Powerful circumstantial evidence, however, suggests Democrats believed that linking Messrs. Trump and Putin would actually be their ace in the hole. They still do. One conclusion recommends itself overwhelmingly on the basis of circumstantial evidence: President Obama, in his final days, used his authority over the intelligence agencies to advance this partisan narrative.
A congressman with a modest profile, Mr. Schiff has been working hard ever since to become the public face—not to say the Joe McCarthy—of this witch hunt.
This is his main chance. It’s supposedly in his wheelhouse because, 27 years ago, he led the Justice Department’s effort to put a sad sack FBI agent in jail over his affair with an equally pathetic Soviet agent.
Again, who really benefits from his relentless campaign of disparagement against Mr. Trump?
The answer is obviously Mr. Schiff—but also Mr. Putin.
In truth, a U.S. president can’t do much for Mr. Putin, except for one thing: give him a convenient enemy. The breadth of opinion in support of this proposition is truly impressive. In 2014, the New Yorker magazine noted a Putin regime “shift in orientation . . . in which isolation and conflict with the West are virtues in and of themselves.” In January, the Hoover Institution’s Paul Gregory wrote of the regime’s need to persuade the Russian people of an “imminent threat from the decadent hegemonic West.”
Mr. Putin’s efforts in the U.S. election and elsewhere (Syria, Libya, Ukraine) really only ever had one audience, the Russian people, who must be kept supine despite an unraveling economy, lawlessness, corruption. How is their restlessness to be suppressed? By citing the supposedly warlike designs of the U.S.
Notice that we don’t suggest collusion between Mr. Putin and Mr. Schiff, whose ambition plays so incidentally into Mr. Putin’s hands.
Appeared in the Mar. 22, 2017, print edition.