Paul Sperry is a former Hoover Institution media fellow and author of several nonfiction books.
Polls show voters are jumping to the same conclusion as much of Washington: that President Trump "colluded” with Vladimir Putin to steal the presidential election.
But the evidence doesn’t back that up. Instead, such perceptions are driven by a number of key government and media assertions, which on closer inspection, dissolve into illusion:
"We have 17 intelligence agencies that know — with great certitude — that [the DNC hacking] was done by the Russians [to help Trump],” House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) recently said, echoing AP, CNN, The New York Times, NBC and CBS, among others.
The Obama administration’s Jan. 6 assessment reflected the views of just three intelligence agencies — and one of them, the NSA, which captures Russian signals, expressed only "moderate confidence” in the conclusion. The others, the CIA and FBI, cautioned their judgment "might be wrong.”
The FBI and CIA reached their conclusion based on the forensic analysis of a private contractor who was hired by the DNC to examine its hacked e-mail server. "We didn’t get direct access [to the server],” former FBI Director James Comey testified.
In a quid pro quo with Moscow, the Trump campaign "gutted,” as The Washington Post described it, the GOP’s anti-Russia platform position on Ukraine.
The final convention platform actually added tougher language on Russian aggression, including calling for "increasing sanctions against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored.”
Much of the notorious "Steele Dossier,” despite being paid for by the Clinton campaign, still "checks out” (New York Times) or has "proven to be accurate” (Washington Post).
The parts of the dossier the media are citing as true are merely echoes of their own reporting. Even a recent WaPo analysis of the 35-page document concedes that "many claims involve things that would have been publicly known at the time the report was drafted.”
Some press accounts have treated the dossier’s allegation that Russian officials offered Trump adviser Carter Page billions to end US sanctions as confirmed in September 2016 reporting by Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff. But Isikoff’s "Western intelligence source” was almost surely the dossier itself. So the media used the dossier to corroborate the dossier. (Page, who has repeatedly denied under oath he met with the Russian officials cited in the dossier, is suing Yahoo News over the Isikoff story.)
What doesn’t check out at all, though, is the dossier’s most serious charge: that Trump officials secretly met with Kremlin officials overseas to hatch the hacking scheme against the Clinton campaign.
The idea that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with "Kremlin representatives and associated operators/hackers” to discuss "how to process deniable cash payments to . . . anti-Clinton hackers paid by both Trump team and Kremlin” has been debunked. Cohen denied ever visiting Prague; his passport carries no stamps showing he left or entered the US at the time; Czech authorities found no evidence he visited Prague; and University of Southern California officials confirm he was on campus visiting his son during that time.
Russian interference in the election opens the door to questioning the results of the 2016 election and the legitimacy of the Trump presidency.
The Obama intel assessment concluded none of the Russian hacking targets was "involved in vote tallying.”
And several states, including Wisconsin and California, now deny initial government reports that their election systems were ever even "scanned” by Russian cyber actors. Obama himself said any intrusions did not compromise the election results: "The election was not tarnished . . . We have not seen evidence of machines being tampered with.”
Russia launched a social media campaign that was "pivotal” to Trump’s victory: CNN.
Facebook data reveal there was no real strategy behind the social-media ads paid in rubles. Most never mentioned either candidate. Geographic distribution was broad, targeting even non-battleground states like Maryland and Texas. Virtually all the Michigan and Wisconsin ads ran in 2015, which hardly helped Trump in 2016.
Russian Twitter and Facebook bots trolled both the left and the right with agitprop — in what appears to have been a general effort to deepen divisions and sow political chaos in America, not to favor one party or candidate over the other.
Judging by the rampant mythology on this issue, that part was successful.