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GOP uses Durham report to pretend the Russia scandal wasn’t real

I realize much of the right doesn’t want to hear this, but the Russia scandal was legitimate before the Durham report, and it’s still legitimate now.


The front-page headline in the conservative Washington Times stood out. “No remorse: Democrats stick to Trump-Russia collusion claims despite Durham report,” it read. The subtext was hardly subtle: The conservative newspaper was incredulous that some rascally observers, even now, in the wake of John Durham’s findings, still believe that the Russia scandal is a real, legitimate controversy.

The nerve of some people. Where’s their “remorse”?

For Republicans and their allies, the Russia scandal became the “Russia hoax” quite a while ago, but in the wake of the special counsel’s report reaching the public on Monday, the party is acting as if the case is now officially closed — and Donald Trump was right all along.

“The Russian hoax was a figment of Hillary Clinton’s imagination,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee declared on Monday night. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas condemned reality-based observers for “breathlessly spreading these ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ lies.” Sen. Eric Schmitt pointed to Durham’s findings as confirmation that the “collusion” story was a “politically motivated hit job.” His fellow Missourian, Sen. Josh Hawley, added, “It was all a hoax.”

Conservative media outlets are eagerly playing along. In addition to the aforementioned Washington Times report, Trump appeared on Newsmax last night, and during the interview, the on-screen chyron delivered the message to viewers that the former president wanted to see: “Durham report proves Russian collusion was a witch hunt.”

To be sure, these reactions were inevitable. It didn’t much matter what the special counsel wrote — I find it very difficult to believe any of these folks actually read the report — because Trump and his allies settled on their message ahead of time.

But reality is stubborn.

University of Michigan law professor Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney and an MSNBC legal analyst, explained yesterday, “[T]he Durham Report provides fuel for the false claim that the Russia probe was a hoax. Don’t fall for it.” A Washington Post fact-check report added this morning that, in reality, “Russia sought to change the outcome of the [2016 presidential] election, and the Republican candidate welcomed that help.” The same report concluded that the FBI had good reason to investigate the ties between the Trump campaign and its Russian benefactors.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, I’m mindful of the fact that Republicans have spent years trying to dismiss the Russia scandal, largely out of partisan necessity: The truth was a disaster for Trump and his political operation, so their allies set out to assure Americans that we need not trust our lying eyes.

What’s more, it’s quite possible that for those living in a conservative bubble — folks, for example, who were led to believe former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report "exonerated" Trump, reality be damned — this public-relations strategy will prove wildly effective. I have no doubt that a painfully large chunk of the population is now absolutely certain that the underlying controversy is “fake.”

But the allegations at the heart of the Russia scandal remain fundamentally unchanged. Now seems like a good time to review anew some core truths.

Russia attacked the American elections in 2016

Every U.S. intelligence agency and lawmakers from both parties have long agreed that the Kremlin launched an expansive and expensive covert military intelligence operation that targeted the U.S. political system in 2016. This basic fact is no longer contested — except by Trump, who publicly declared that he found Vladimir Putin more reliable than his own administration’s officials — and its importance is too often overlooked.

Did the Durham report discredit this? No. In fact, it didn’t even try.

Russia’s goal was to put Trump in power

The Kremlin’s operation was not politically neutral: Moscow attacked our elections in the hopes of helping dictate the outcome. According to the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, the Mueller investigation, and the multi-step investigation from the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee, Russia saw Trump as a prospective ally and believed it would be in its interests if the Republican were in the White House.

Did the Durham report discredit this? No. It didn’t try to do this, either.

Russia and Team Trump were political allies

As regular readers know, investigations from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee documented the extent to which Trump and his team welcomed, received, and benefited from Russian campaign assistance. (They also obstructed the investigation into this assistance — by some measures, 10 times.)

The evidence also showed there was coordination and high-level connections between Trump’s political operation and those responsible for the attack on our elections. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report at one point literally described a “direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”

Did the Durham report discredit this? It wanted to, but it couldn’t. In fact, as McQuade noted, the special counsel’s office apparently preferred to simply overlook the details that helped solidify the connections between Russia and Team Trump.

Team Trump lied about its communications with Russia

No, really, Team Trump lied about its communications with Russia. A lot. Out loud and on record. Over and over again, Trump and his spokespersons insisted there were absolutely no interactions between the Republican, his political operation, and their Russian benefactors. We now know definitively that they were lying — though they still haven’t been forthcoming about why.

Did the Durham report discredit this? No. It didn’t even try to do this, either.

The Russia scandal led to a series of felony convictions and prison sentences

For an alleged “hoax,” the Russia scandal led to an amazing number of federal prosecutions — unlike the Durham investigation, which proved to be a prosecutorial flop. In fact, the investigation into the underlying controversy led to the convictions of, among others, Trump’s White House national security advisor, campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, foreign policy advisor, personal lawyer, and to the indictment of 13 Russian nationals who interfered in our elections as part of the larger plot.

I realize, of course, that there are all kinds of contentious details and personalities related to the larger controversy, but these five truths remain intact, and have been bolstered, not only by U.S. intelligence agencies, but also by the Mueller probe and the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings. Russia attacked our elections to help Trump. The Republican’s political operation welcomed, received, benefited from, and lied about Russian campaign assistance. Many key players from Trump’s inner circle were charged, prosecuted, and convicted.

These aren’t opinions. They are conclusions drawn from multiple, bipartisan and non-partisan investigations, conducted across several years.

This was true before Monday, and it’s still true now.

This post revises our related earlier coverage.