What’s the point of winning the world if you lose your soul in the bargain? So asks Matthew 16:26. But Democrats have managed to do both. They’ve lost the world by allowing Donald Trump to emerge stronger than ever from the impeachment debacle, and they’ve lost their soul by spewing out war propaganda every bit as noxious as anything emanating out of the White House.
It’s a tough job paving the way for dictatorship in an era of capitalist decay, but somebody’s got to do it, and Democrats have shown that they’re equal to the task.
Take Jason Crow, a Denver attorney elected to Congress in 2018 and then tapped by Nancy Pelosi to serve as one of seven House managers in the Senate impeachment trial. An ex-Army Ranger and an anti-Russian hawk, Crow told CNN in October:
"Ukraine is in an act of war with one of our chief enemies Russia, and one of the reasons there aren’t Russian tanks going across the plains of Ukraine now is because of our assistance, our support, our provision of things like these Javelin missiles … that are really critical not just for Ukraine’s security but the security of Europe and our soldiers and our sailors our airmen serving in Europe."
That foreshadowed legal scholar Pamela Karlan’s argument before the House judiciary committee later that it’s in America’s national interest to arm the Ukraine "so we can fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here" – as if Russia was planning to invade Washington at any moment.
But Crow went even farther in the impeachment trial. Responding to a question concerning why Trump continues to blame the Ukraine for interfering in 2016 when everybody knows it was Russia, he heartily agreed:
"Let’s outline the facts that we do know about today. None of the seventeen witnesses who testified as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry were aware of any factual basis to support the allegations that it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election. … Miss [Fiona] Hill … [called it a] ‘fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.’ The US intelligence community has unanimously determined that there is no validity to this, our own intelligence and law enforcement. Special Counsel Mueller found that Russia’s interference was ‘sweeping and systematic.’"
All of which couldn’t have been more misleading. While it’s true that Hill, an aide to ex-national security adviser John Bolton, testified before the House intelligence committee that Ukrainian interference was a fictional narrative, she modified her stance shortly later when presented with a January 2017 Politico article entitled, "Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire." Co-written by Kenneth Vogel and David Stern, its point was very simple: Ukrainian officials during the election "tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office," by disseminating documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption, and by helping Clinton allies "research damaging information on Trump and his advisers."
Hill backpedaled in response. "Mr. Vogel is a very well-known and, as you’ve pointed out, extremely good journalist," she said, "and … Mr. Vogel points out that the Ukrainian government … bet on Hillary Clinton winning the election, and so they were trying to curry favor with the Clinton campaign. It’s quite evident here. And he relates to some extent, individuals and some Ukrainian officials like Mr. [Arsen] Avakov, the interior minister, and a number of other people … and talks about how they were trying to collect information … on Mr. Manafort and on other people as well."
So after saying that Ukraine didn’t interfere, Hill then said the opposite, even if she added that "there was little evidence of a top-down effort." But Crow skipped over the second half as if it didn’t exist. As for the intelligence community’s unanimous determination, the report issued by the CIA, FBI, and NSA on Jan. 6, 2017, focused exclusively on Russian rather than Ukrainian interference for the simple reason that the latter was not on the table. The same goes for the Mueller report: while concluding that Russian intervention was "sweeping and systematic," it said nothing about Ukrainian interference for the same reason.
While accusing Trump of spreading disinformation, Democrats thus did the same. Crow, however, was just warming up:
"But don’t take our own law enforcement and intelligence community’s word for it. Let’s hear what Vladimir Putin himself said recently about this. In November of 2019, Mr. Putin was overheard saying, ‘Thank God no one is accusing us of interfering in the US elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine.’ And let me end with that one because that one demonstrates to me why this matters…. Vladimir Putin couldn’t care less about delivering healthcare for the people of Russia, about building infrastructure in Russia. Vladimir Putin … gets up every morning and goes to bed every night trying to figure out how to destroy American democracy, and he has organized the infrastructure of his government around that effort."
How Putin’s statement proves that he doesn’t care about healthcare is anybody’s guess. All it indicates is that he’s glad America has decided to pick on another country rather than his own. But the idea that he spends every waking moment trying to subvert US democracy is sheer lunacy. Putin has enough on his plate: pro-Nazi apologetics issued by neighboring governments in Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine, a growing military confrontation between Syria and Turkey in Syria’s northern Idlib province, the danger of a US-Iranian war in the Persian Gulf, and so on. While he certainly cares about US foreign policy, US constitutional affairs are another matter, and there’s no evidence that he gives them a moment’s thought.
Crow, of course, will reply that Putin must care because he devoted so much energy to hacking American democracy in 2016. But Robert Mueller’s massive report notwithstanding, the Russiagate narrative has more holes than Swiss cheese. The Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg firm charged with purchasing ads on Facebook, spent a paltry $45,000 prior to Election Day, hardly enough to sway voter opinion, while the ads themselves were so silly and unfocused – some pro-Clinton, some anti, some neither – that that worst Mueller could come up with is that they were intended to "sow discord," a well-nigh meaningless concept. The evidence that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and then passed along thousands of stolen emails to WikiLeaks is unconvincing since Julian Assange did not hear from alleged Russian intelligence "cut-out" Guccifer 2.0 until three days after announcing that "upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton" were on the way. How could Guccifer be the source if Assange already had the material in hand?
Other loose threads include the intriguing question of why Mueller chose not to interview Assange even though the WikiLeaks founder said he’d make himself available and why he indicated that Joseph Mifsud, the Anglo-Maltese academic who started Russiagate, was a Russian intelligence asset even though a wealth of evidence links him with western intelligence instead. Mifsud is the key figure who started the scandal by telling a young Trump adviser named George Papadopoulos that Russia had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." So you don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to know that nailing down whom he was working for is vital. Yet Mueller was not interested.
Not that people like Crow care. To the contrary, all they want Americans to do is click their heels three times and say they believe in Democratic myths rather than those of the Republicans. "This is a battle over resolve," he told the Senate on June 30. "It’s a battle over the hearts and minds of our people. It’s a battle over information and disinformation. And if the message from the very top of our government, from the very top of our leaders, [if] the message from some folks over the last couple of weeks is that facts don’t matter, that our law enforcement doesn’t matter, that our intelligence community’s unanimous consensus doesn’t matter, that is dangerous, that is what Vladimir Putin and Russia are looking for, and that makes us less safe."
So if Americans want to be more safe, they should swallow Democratic disinformation whole. The Democratic role in impeachment was thus to slather another layer of propaganda and falsification on top of the one that already existed. Americans wound up doubly misinformed as a result and doubly perplexed about what to do about galloping authoritarianism. Is it any wonder that Trump has emerged stronger than ever?
Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He writes a weekly column for Antiwar.com. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.