In his recent appearance at a panel on “fake news” in Moscow, the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald described his bold iconoclastic policy of speaking truth to power, and then proceeded to repeat an absurd lie told by the leader of the American government. In Greenwald’s telling, the notion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election came about as a desperate way for media elites to explain why their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, did not prevail.
“The American political system needed an explanation about why something like that could happen, and why they got it so wrong,” began Greenwald. “One of the explanations about why it happened was the favorite tactic of governments, which was to say, it wasn’t anything wrong with our country, it was this other foreign country over there that was to blame. And that’s a major reason why fingers continue to be pointed at the Russian government.”
Greenwald was very clear about his belief that the whole theory of Russian involvement was a postelection exercise in blame-shifting: “Excuses were needed, villains were required, people needed to point fingers at someone other than themselves for this very shocking event, and that’s why there became this obsession with the Russian government.”
This also happens to be President Trump’s theory of the case. Democrats needed an excuse, he argues, so rather than admit “Crooked Hillary” was a terrible candidate, they concocted the notion that Russia helped Trump win:
This analysis suffers from a small problem and also a large one. The small problem is that almost nobody attributes Clinton’s loss entirely to Russian interference. Like most election results, this one had many causes, including Clinton’s limits as a candidate. The result was close enough that it’s certainly possible Clinton would have won if not for Russia’s help — especially its email hacking, which drove a great deal of campaign coverage — but it can’t be proven. It is Trump and Greenwald, rather than the people taking Russia’s interference seriously, who are obsessed with the causes of Clinton’s defeat. They are attributing their own priorities to their opponents.
The large problem is chronological. The FBI began investigating Trump in the middle of 2016. Obviously, that couldn’t have resulted from the shock of Trump’s surprise victory because Trump’s surprise victory had not occurred yet. Indeed, FBI director James Comey kept the investigation of Trump and Russia secret, while publicizing the investigation of Clinton, because he was (infamously) certain Clinton was going to win. The notion that Russia became the subject of blame because she lost is absurd on its face.
In his panel commentary, Greenwald proceeded to insist that the silly habit of blaming Russia for things it didn’t do is spreading to Britain.
He is referencing a burgeoning scandal uncovering Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum vote, which took place a few months before Trump’s election. The story here is that Russia strongly supported Brexit, which advanced its goal of splitting apart Western alliances. Russia could not legally finance the Brexit campaign. Brexit was instead supported by British national Arron Banks, who, acting out of apparent generosity, donated the largest political expenditure in U.K. history to support the yes vote.
Banks initially conceded he had met with Russian officials, but only one time. When The Guardian discovered documents establishing more meetings, and the fact that Russia had dangled a lucrative mining deal before him, Banks conceded he had actually met with the Russians two or three times, but had not taken the deal. The New York Times discovered another meeting, at which point Banks admitted he had actually met with the Russians four times. Most recently, The Guardian has found that Banks held 11 known meetings with the Russians, and both publications found that Banks’s business partner took up the Russians on their offer.
To me, the repeated lies by Banks, and the evidence of the business deal, raises the prospect that Russia used Banks as a pass-through to finance Brexit. And by providing another example of covert Russian political interference in a Western country, it supports the case for suspicion about Russian intervention in the American election that same year.
To Greenwald, the story is simply more evidence that everybody is getting hysterical about Russia. “It really has become an obsession in the United States to think about all problems emanating from Moscow – and not just in the United States, but also now in the U.K. as well.” See, even the British are making crazy accusations against Russia!
In his mind, the story has never been what Russia has been doing, but the way the political mainstream has reacted to Russia. More evidence of Russian culpability generates more response from his targets, which, processed through the peculiar logic of Greenwald’s brain, becomes evidence of an anti-Russian witch hunt.
Greenwald is understandably upset that some people on Twitter often accuse him of being on the take from Russia. It’s a truly absurd accusation that totally fails to understand how Greenwald’s ideology has driven him to this point. It also fails to grasp Greenwald’s self-conception as a heroically independent voice, which — for all the fanaticism it inculcates — he truly believes. He could never be corrupted by anything except his own fanaticism.