Reporter argues Trump defenders used the Steele dossier as a 'weapon' against the truth in the Russia probe

Reporter argues Trump defenders used the Steele dossier as a 'weapon' against the truth in the Russia probe

Right-wing media outlets have been paying considerable attention to the indictment of Igor Danchenko as part of Special Counsel John H. Durham's investigation, claiming that it discredits the Trump-Russia probe in general. But Mother Jones' David Corn, in an article published this week, expresses a very different viewpoint — stressing that the Danchenko indictment is far from a total vindication of former President Donald Trump's connection to Russia.

Danchenko, in 2016, was a primary researcher for British spy Christopher Steele's dossier on the Trump-Russia connection — and a grand jury has indicted him on five counts of lying to the FBI. Trump's defenders in right-wing media have been claiming that the indictment not only discredits the controversial Steele dossier of 2016, but also discredits the Trump-Russia investigation that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller led in 2017 and 2018 after Trump was sworn in as president.

"Vladimir Putin must be delighted," Corn writes. "With the recent indictment of Igor Danchenko, the primary source for former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele's 2016 dossier that alleged ties between Donald Trump and Moscow, the Trump-Russia denialists have had a field day. They have blasted the media for its reporting on Steele's memos and claimed that this further undermining of his reports demonstrates the Russia scandal was a hoax. That last point is disinformation."

Corn adds that the Steele dossier "is but a sideshow to the main event: how the Kremlin clandestinely attacked the 2016 election to help Trump become president and how Trump and his crew aided and abetted that assault on American democracy."

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The Mother Jones reporter, in his article, acknowledges that the Steele dossier contained "unsubstantiated allegations" about Trump and his connection to the Kremlin. But that, according to Corn, doesn't erase the fact that the Russian government, under President Vladimir Putin, really did interfere in the 2016 presidential election — and that the Kremlin wanted to see Trump, not Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in the White House.

"Trump and his allies would use the Steele dossier and its unproven prurient charges as their best defense against the realities of the Trump-Russia scandal," Corn notes. "They would claim that the FBI investigation of the Trump-Russia interactions — which [former FBI Director James] Comey finally acknowledged publicly in March 2017 — had been triggered by the phony Steele allegations of direct Trump-Moscow collusion and kompromat, and they would insist that the entire Russia controversy was a hoax manufactured by Trump's political enemies and the media. That was not true."

He continued:

No matter what emerged, Trump and his comrades kept pointing to the Steele dossier and claiming this scandal was all one big scam. They asserted Trump was the victim of a deep-state conspiracy waged by a hidden cabal that had used the Steele memos to try to bring him down. The Steele dossier became their favorite weapon to ward off consideration and discussion of the Russian operation and any Trump complicity. House Republicans even deployed it as a defense during Trump's first impeachment, insisting it showed that nefarious forces were aligned against Trump and the Ukraine scandal was a continuation of the Russia "hoax."

Throughout Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump's defenders claimed that because the Steele dossier was flawed, so was the Mueller probe. But as Corn explains, those who made that claim were mixing apples and oranges — and problems with the Steele dossier didn't make Mueller's investigation any less legitimate. And it certainly didn't make Trump innocent.

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As Corn noted:

The Russians indeed were working to assist Trump. The Trump campaign had tried to obtain Clinton dirt from the Kremlin. There had been a flow of information from Manafort to Putin-friendly oligarchs and Kilimnik and, according to the Treasury Department, to the Russian intelligence service. Trump had been pursuing a development project in Moscow, as part of a years-long effort to score a lucrative deal there. Perhaps he was being cultivated in that way. In retrospect, it looks as if Steele (with memos not intended to be public) framed—or, at least, sloppily threw unsubstantiated allegations at—a guilty man.
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