We’ve known for quite some time that President Donald Trump’s political opponents paid for the opposition research that led to the infamous Russia dossier of assorted allegations — some subsequently confirmed, some not, some salacious, some not — involving the Republican’s connections with the Putin regime. We’ve known for months that a wealthy Republican opposed to Mr. Trump’s candidacy initially paid for it, and after the primaries, Democrats took over. It turns out those Democrats were the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee via a Washington law firm that hired the opposition research company that hired the former British intelligence agent who did the digging. That’s interesting, but mainly in that none of the contents of the dossier became public until after the campaign was over. Apparently the Clinton camp showed some modicum of compunction about throwing around unsubstantiated allegations. How quaint.
But what this does not mean is that the questions about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia or the Putin government’s efforts to help him get elected are made-up or unimportant. And it definitely does not mean that, as Mr. Trump put it Wednesday, “the hoax is turned around, and you look at what’s happened with Russia and … you look at the fake dossier, so that’s all turned around.” Nor does it mean, as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “The real Russia scandal? Clinton campaign paid for the fake Russia dossier, then lied about it & covered it up.”
Or what former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted: “Hard 2read this w/o concluding Clinton campaign colluded w Russia 2interfere in US election.”
In other words, someone hired by someone hired by someone hired by the Clinton campaign talked to sources in Russia and got dirt that the campaign didn’t use that could have undermined the Kremlin’s goal of electing Mr. Trump, ergo, Hillary colluded with Mr. Putin. For that, Mr. Fleischer earns undisputed Alternative Fact of the Week honors.
If people who knew the Clinton campaign and DNC paid for part of the research eventually conducted by Christopher Steele directly lied about it, as some who have covered the story allege, that’s bad.
If the Clinton aides who criticized the media for not reporting on the contents of the dossier before the election knew that the campaign had played a role in funding it, that’s disgraceful. If Ms. Clinton knew about it before airing similar criticism in her post-campaign book, that’s worse. Indeed, there may well prove to be many alternative facts from the Clinton side in regard to this whole episode.
But none of that represents a threat to national security or to the integrity of our elections. What we actually know about about Russian interference in the election does.
Just to recap, we know that Russian hackers spread fake stories designed to boost his prospects and hurt Ms. Clinton’s. Russians bought thousands of Facebook, Google and Twitter ads in a targeted effort to influence swing-state voters. Leaders of those companies are due to testify about it before Congress next week.
Russians attempted to hack into at least 21 states’ election systems (including Maryland’s). Assorted U.S. intelligence agencies have unanimously concluded that Russians sought to intervene on Mr. Trump’s behalf, and the bi-partisan leaders of a Senate panel investigating the matter have said the same thing. Oh, and there was the bit about Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort sitting down with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton in what an intermediary who set up the meeting said was part of the Russian government’s effort to help Mr. Trump. That all happened, and it’s a big deal whether the Trump campaign was actively involved or not.
If Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Department of Justice’s investigation into the matter, finds any evidence that the Clinton campaign engaged in any illegal activity, by all means he should follow it. (He’s reportedly already investigating Tony Podesta, the brother of former Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, for work in Ukraine, though from what is known it appears to have had to do with an election there, not here.) But we trust that neither Mr. Mueller, the Senate nor the American people are ready to ignore all the evidence that Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign because of some twisted Trumpian effort to tie the mess around Hillary Clinton’s neck.