Right’s Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theory–The Nunes Memo


February 4, 2018

Right’s Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theory–The Nunes Memo

by John Cassidy

http://www.newyorker.com

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Representative (R) Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Is the Russia investigation  a partisan hit job engineered by the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Obama Administration, and anti-Trump elements inside the F.B.I?

The memo that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released to Fox News and the Washington Examiner on Friday morning—everyone else had to wait until noon—is four pages long. Its authors should have stopped at three pages, though, because the fourth serves only to undermine the entire theory of the case that Donald Trump and his supporters have been peddling for weeks now, which is that the Russia investigation is a partisan hit job engineered by the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Obama Administration, and anti-Trump elements inside the F.B.I.

To believe this conspiracy theory, which emanated from the likes of Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, and Tom Fitton, the head of the right-wing research group Judicial Watch, you have to believe that the investigation began with the infamous “Steele dossier,” the document compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, which claims that the Russian government had been trying to cultivate Donald Trump for years and had obtained kompromat on him in the form of a sex tape. The right-wing argument goes that Clinton operatives cooked up a scandalous piece of fiction, got Steele to pass it along to some Trump-haters in the F.B.I., who then persuaded their bosses at the Justice Department to open an investigation, and here we are, eighteen months later, with Robert Mueller and his investigators hounding an innocent President.

The memo that was made public on Friday, whose release was pushed for by Representative Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, directly contradicts this story. Its first three pages are largely devoted to analyzing the context of the F.B.I.’s electronic surveillance of Carter Page, a former foreign-policy adviser to Trump. When, on October 21, 2016, the F.B.I. asked a secret intelligence court for permission to surveil Page, the memo alleges, the agency omitted “material and relevant information” from its request—for instance, the fact that the Steele dossier, which the government submitted in support of the application, had been commissioned and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. “Neither the initial application . . . nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials,” the memo says.

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Carter Page, Phd

This is an interesting allegation, to be sure, and, as soon as the memo was released, Trump’s supporters were making much of it on Fox News and elsewhere. It should be noted, though, that some legal experts have already pointed out that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department weren’t under any legal obligation to inform the court about who paid for the dossier.

On top of this, most of the information that the government did give to the court is still classified. FISA applications usually run to more than sixty pages. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have written a counter-memo, which they claim lays out what else the F.B.I. knew about Page when it applied to surveil him, but so far Republicans have refused to allow the minority party to release that document to the public. The F.B.I. seems likely to have pointed out to the court that Page, a frequent visitor to Russia, had been on the radar of its counterintelligence division for several years, and that two suspected Russian intelligence agents, one of whom the Justice Department subsequently charged, had tried to recruit him as a spy, in 2013.

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But, even after reading only the Republicans’ memo, we can say two things. First, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department didn’t base their application to monitor Page entirely on Steele’s work. And, second, and more important, the Trump-Russia investigation didn’t begin with the Steele dossier. These two facts are there in that lonely paragraph on the fourth page of the Nunes memo. This is how it begins: “The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos.

The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Peter Strzok.” In other words, the Trump-Russia probe began with an investigation of Papadopoulos, a young foreign-policy aide to the Trump campaign, who last year pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.

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A Times story in December provided basically the same account, but this isn’t a newspaper report: it is an official memo written by congressional staff members quoting a secret F.B.I. court filing. Far from confirming the conspiracy theory promoted by Trump, Hannity, and Fitton, the Nunes memo contradicts a central element of it. No wonder that some people in the White House, including the Chief of Staff, John Kelly, were reportedly less enthusiastic about releasing it than Trump was. (“Rising White House fear: Nunes Memo is a dud,” a headline at Axios read on Thursday.)

Yet, for the conspiracy theorists, the contents of the memo matter less than the support they’ve received recently from at least some elements of the Republican Party leadership, including Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, who earlier this week said the memo should be made public and talked about the need to “cleanse” the F.B.I. Trump is capable of anything. We know this from his firing of James Comey, last May, and his attempted firing of Mueller, last June, which was reportedly only thwarted when the White House counsel, Don McGahn, threatened to quit. If Trump uses the memo as a pretext to fire Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who oversees Mueller’s investigation, Ryan and other senior Republicans will be wholly complicit in causing a constitutional crisis.

 

The South China Sea and ASEAN Unity: A Cambodian Perspective


February 3, 2018

The South China Sea and ASEAN Unity: A Cambodian Perspective

by Cheunboran Chanborey

Mr. Cheunboran Chanborey is currently a PhD student at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. His main areas of his interest include Cambodia’s foreign policy, East Asian security and international relations.

Prior to pursuing a PhD degree, he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia and taught at the Department of International Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh. Mr. Chanborey holds an MA in Public Management from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, in conjunction of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He also holds an MA in Diplomacy and International Studies from the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, Rangsit University (Thailand), as well as a BA in International Relations from the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.

https://thcasean.org/read/articles/268/The-South-China-Sea-and-ASEAN-Unity-A-Cambodian-Perspective

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Since 2010, the South China Sea has reemerged as one of Asia’s hotspots due to increasing military tensions between China and other claimant states, especially the Philippines and Vietnam. Diplomatic stalemate between ASEAN and China as well as within ASEAN further exacerbates the uncertainty. The South China Sea has become what The Economist called a “sea of troubles.”1

Clearly, China is being assertive in the disputed areas. Its massive land reclamation, the establishment of new military landing strips, and the deployment of anti-craft missiles are strong evidence for such a judgment. Moreover, despite the absence of major military clashes, China has been assertive in using Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships, civilian fishing ships as well as mobile oil explorations to assert and defend its maritime territorial claims.

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China’s growing assertiveness resulted in numerous confrontations with ASEAN claimant states. For instance, confrontation between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal escalated in 2012. In May 2014, China moved a large oil ring into waters near the Paracels, which Vietnam also claims. This resulted in confrontation between Chinese and Vietnamese civilian and military ships. In March 2016, Jakarta-Beijing bilateral relations soured due to alleged encroachments by Chinese fishing boats into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Decoding China’s Assertiveness in the South China Sea

There are many attempts to explain China’s military and diplomatic posture in the South China Sea. Donald Emmerson argues that China’s increasing assertiveness derives from Beijing’s three fears and one megaproject. 2 The three fears include: (1) the repetition of humiliation that China experienced throughout the 19th century by Western powers—Britain, France, and the United States—that arrived in China in ships across the South China Sea, (2) attempts by external powers, the United States in particular, to contain the rise of China to assume its rightful place in the world, and (3) the disaffection of the Chinese over Beijing’s handling of the country’s territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, since becoming China’s new leader in November 2012, President Xi Jinping declared the China Dream as a way to achieve a “rich and powerful country, the revitalization of the nation, and the people’s happiness.”3 The goal is to exert China’s primacy in Asia and the world. To this end, offshore dominance, especially in the South China Sea, may be viewed by Beijing as a requisite step forward toward the goal.

The US Involvement in the South China Sea: Constructive or Divisive?

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Another development that must also be considered while discussing about a more assertive China in the region is the American “pivot to Asia,” which has been seen, at least in the eyes of Chinese strategists, as an attempt by Washington to encircle China.

Controversially, at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi in 2010, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared publicly that the United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and flights in the South China Sea. Since then, military tension has been unabated, and the Philippines and Vietnam have been more assertive both in their bilateral negotiation with China and in using ASEAN as a framework to deal with China. Arguably, Manila and Hanoi might share the same conviction that time is actually on the Chinese side and that it is the right time to push for more compromise from Beijing given the fact that China is not yet a full-fledged superpower and, more importantly, the United States is actively reengaging in Asia. As a result, the South China Sea has always been a hot agenda item in ASEAN meetings and ASEAN-related meetings since 2010.

Although the United States does not exert any claim, it has interests in the South China Sea, which include, but not limited to: (1) freedom of navigation; (2) commitments to its allies in the region, and (3) attempt to prevent regional hegemony.4 To protect its interests in the region, the United States has strengthened its security cooperation with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore. It has also increased joint military exercises with the regional countries and operated maritime patrol aircraft to challenge China’s assertiveness in the disputed area. The US engagement in the South China Sea, in turn, gives ASEAN claimant states leverage in pursuing a firmer stance toward China, which is not supported by ASEAN non-claimant states due to their desire to maintain close ASEAN-China relations. As a result, ASEAN’s division on the issue has been evident.

Hun Sen’s Rebuke Against “Unjust Accusations”

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Inevitably, disagreement within ASEAN on the South China Sea caused a political crisis during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh in July 2012 as the foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communiqué for the first time in ASEAN’s history. The failure—known in ASEAN circles as the Phnom Penh Fiasco—has allegedly been interpreted as the result of enormous Chinese pressure on Cambodia: Beijing allegedly blocked any mention of the South China Sea in the joint communiqué.5

More recently, the ASEAN-China Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in June 2016 in Yuxi, China was concluded without a joint press conference by the co-chairs of the meeting—China and Singapore, ASEAN-China Coordinator—due to a lack of agreement on the South China Sea. Following the meeting, it has been reported that, under Beijing’s pressure, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar forced the recall of the ASEAN joint press statement by withdrawing their support on the statement, which was to be released separately from the host, China.

Earlier in April 2016, China has reached a four-point consensus with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos that territorial disputes in the South China Sea were “not an issue between China and ASEAN as whole.” Subsequently, Beijing has been accused of dividing ASEAN to preempt any ASEAN consensus on the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the Philippines’s South China Sea case against China just issued on July 12, 2016.

In defending his country’s position, Prime Minister Hun Sen recently remarked that “Cambodia has again and again become a victim of the South China Sea issue because of unjust accusations.”6 He added that the Phnom Penh Fiasco took place not because of Cambodia. The reason was, as he said, “They bullied Cambodia,” referring to pressure from two ASEAN claimant states—the Philippines and Vietnam—to incorporate their strong wordings in the joint communiqué. He also blamed some ASEAN claimant states for “trying to drag Cambodia into the dispute,” saying that “They have a dispute, but they get Cambodia to be responsible.”

Cambodia’s position on the South China Sea is aimed at: (1) continuing implementing the declaration of conduct (DOC); (2) urging ASEAN and China to make the utmost effort to finalize the code of conduct (COC); and (3) encouraging countries concerned to discuss and resolve their issue because ASEAN is not a court. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that, “ASEAN cannot measure land for them…the South China Sea is not an issue between ASEAN and China.”

With regard to the PCA’s verdict, Prime Minister Hun Sen has revealed a clear position that Cambodia would “not make any joint declaration to support the decision of the court.” The Philippines has gone too far in unilaterally bringing the South China Sea to the court without seriously anticipating the action’s implications on ASEAN and ASEAN-China relations. Hun Sen made it clear that, “It is the Philippines who sues China. Let the Philippines deal with it. Why call for ASEAN’s support?”

Prime Minister Hun Sen also called upon major powers outside the region to refrain from “pouring the oil into flame and try to keep detente in relations on the South China Sea.” He referred to “one of the major powers outside the region”—widely taken to be the United States—has lobbied ASEAN members to jointly support the PCA’s ruling.

Cambodia Between ASEAN and China

Clearly, the South China Sea constitutes today’s most difficult foreign policy dilemma for Cambodia since ASEAN and China are both crucially important for the kingdom’s security and economic development. Since becoming an ASEAN member in 1999, Phnom Penh has attached a great importance to the integration of Cambodia into the regional grouping. In fact, ASEAN has always been the cornerstone of Cambodian foreign policy. Cambodian policymakers were convinced that ASEAN would be a crucial platform through which their country could safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as promote its strategic and economic interests.

Prime Minister Hun Sen reminded again four main factors encouraging Cambodia to join ASEAN. First, ASEAN’s principle of non-interference would help Cambodia, which is sandwiched by its “two giant ASEAN countries—Thailand and Vietnam,” to address its external security challenges. Secondly, a consensus-based ASEAN would ensure that “Whether the country is rich or poor, big or small, every member has one voice equally.” Thirdly, Cambodia would stand to benefit from ASEAN in terms of “economic construction, socio-economic development and connectivity.” Finally, Cambodia would benefit from ASEAN’s “big diplomatic outreach to partners.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recall of reasons for Cambodia’s membership in ASEAN can be understood as an expression of doubt in contrast to his past conviction on the role of the regional organization. First, it seems that Hun Sen’s confidence in ASEAN has gradually faded due to the grouping’s ineffective response to the Cambodia-Thailand border conflict between 2008 and 2011. In response to Cambodia’s urge for help, what ASEAN and its member states did was the encouragement for Phnom Penh and Bangkok to bilaterally resolve the dispute. In fact, the border dispute was never tabled as an agenda of the ASEAN Summits until Prime Minister Hun Sen broke protocol, possibly out of his frustration, and raised the issue at the ASEAN Summit in May 2011.

Second, his statement related to the fact that Cambodia has been bullied by some powerful ASEAN members implies his unease at ASEAN’s inability to enforce the principle of non-interference and equal sovereign rights among its member states.

Last but more importantly, China, not ASEAN, has become Cambodia’s largest foreign investor and biggest economic benefactor. China is also the biggest provider of military assistance to Cambodia. Noticeably, China’s military assistance increased remarkably at the time when Cambodia badly needed to build up its defence forces during the Cambodia-Thailand border dispute. Moreover, as for policymakers in Phnom Penh, China is not a threat but a protector of Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, ensured on many occasions by Chinese top leaders.

In this context, it is important for regional leaders and policymakers to reflect the reality of Southeast Asia and how to move forward. Firstly, it is not unreasonable to agree with a Cambodian scholar, Chheang Vannarith, who argues that, “If the regional and external countries keep pressuring the non-claimant states like Cambodia to build a united front against China, ASEAN will be disintegrated”.7

Secondly, ASEAN-China relationship is not only about the South China Sea. There are many areas of cooperation that both sides stand to benefit from, including trade, investment, tourism, regional connectivity, and joint efforts in fighting against non-traditional security issues.

Thirdly, it is unpractical to consider ASEAN a dispute-settlement mechanism. It has never fulfilled that role even in disputes between its member states. Like Cambodia and Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines tried to initially resolve territorial disputes through bilateral mechanisms but eventually brought the issue to the International Court of Justice. At its best, what ASEAN can do is to be a dispute-avoidance mechanism.

Lastly, there is a dangerous risk of internationalizing the South China Sea, particularly by dragging in external powers. By so doing, ASEAN will lose its neutrality in its relations with major powers outside the region. Moreover, ASEAN’s members might be drawn into great-power competition, which will eventually put ASEAN’s unity at risk, for ASEAN members have different interests in the South China Sea and see the role of external powers through different lenses.

End notes:

1. See The Economist, “The South China Sea: Sea of Troubles”, 2 May 2015. Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21650122-disputed-sea-growing-security-nightmareand-increasingly-ecological-one-sea-troubles.

2. See Donald Emmerson, “Why Does China Want to Control the South China Sea”, The Diplomat, 24 May 2016. Available at: http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/why-does-china-want-to-control-the-south-china-sea/

3. See William A. Challahan, “The China Dream and the American Dream”, Economic and Political Studies 1(2014):143-160.

4.See Ronald O’Rourke, “Maritime Territorial and Excusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress”, CRS Report, 31 May 2016. Available at: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42784.pdf

5. Kishore Mahbubani, “Beijing in the South China Sea – belligerent or assertive?” Financial Times, 15 March 2016. Available at: https://next.ft.com/content/58c676ed-f3f4-32ac-b3c9-69efd0ae07fd

6. See Hun Sen’s Remarks at the Graduation Ceremony of the Royal School of Administration, in Phnom Penh, on 20 June 2016. Available at: http://cnv.org.kh/selected-impromptu-comments-graduation-ceremony-royal-school-administration-unofficial-translation/

7. Khmer Times, “Hun Sen: Enough on South China Sea”, 29 June 2016. Available at: http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/26635/hun-sen–enough-on-south–china-sea/

 

Hillary Clinton Looks Back in Anger in What Happened


September 19, 2017

Hillary Clinton Looks Back in Anger (and Frustration Too)

She talks about Trump, Comey, collusion, “deplorables,” and the power of sexism.

When I told Clinton that I had looked her up that morning on Twitter, she smiled knowingly and said, “A dangerous thing to do!” She knew all too well what was there, and it wasn’t merely the usual filth about her appearance or her marriage. It was the kind of material that allowed men like Trump, Michael Flynn, and Chris Christie to get in front of roaring crowds and inspire chants of “Lock her up!”

“I’ve thought a lot about this,” Clinton told me. “And for whatever combination of reasons—some I think I understand, and others I don’t—I am viewed as a threat to powerful forces on both the right and the left. I am still one of the favorite subjects for Fox TV. With the return of [Steve] Bannon to Breitbart, we’ll see him utilizing that publication. It’s because I do speak out, and I do stand up. Sometimes, you know, what I say is not fully appreciated for years, to be honest. At least, it seems to me that way. But I’m going to continue to speak out. And on the left—there is a real manipulation of the left. In addition to those who are calling me names, we know that Russia has really targeted, through their trolls and bots, a lot of accounts—a lot of Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, of people on the left—feeding them a steady diet of nonsense.”

Such talk was not a matter of wishful conspiracy thinking. Scott Shane, of the Times, recently published an article in which he, with the help of the cybersecurity firm FireEye, detailed the Russian efforts against Clinton in the campaign, far beyond the hack of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta’s e-mail accounts. Shane reported that a “cyberarmy” of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bloggers and bots with fake American identities spread disinformation about Clinton on various platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.

These tactics, Clinton told me, were “right out of the playbook of Putin and one of the generals whom he listens to, who talked about the kind of war planning and preparation that Russia needed to be engaged in. It was no longer just large, conventional forces and nuclear warheads—it was also cyberwar, covert and semi-covert, even overt, as we saw in Ukraine. This attack on our electoral system was at least publicly encouraged by Trump and his campaign. I hope the investigation in the Congress and by [Robert] Mueller, as well, will give us more information and understanding of what else they really did to us. It’s not going away.”

I asked Clinton if she thought Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians. “I don’t want to overstate what we already know publicly, but I think the compilation of coincidence adds up to something more than public support,” she said, referring to Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin (“Why should I tell Putin what to do?”) and his encouragement of Julian Assange (“I love WikiLeaks!”).

She went on, “The latest disclosure by Facebook about the targeting of attack ads, negative stories, dovetails with my concern that there had to be some information provided to the Russians by someone as to how best to weaponize the information that they stole, first from the Democratic Committee, then from John Podesta. And the refusal of the Trump Administration officials, both current and former, to admit to their involvements with Russians raises a lot of unanswered questions.” Putin’s motives, she said, went well beyond destabilizing a particular campaign. “Putin wants to undermine democracy, to undermine the Atlantic alliance, to undermine the E.U., to undermine NATO, and to resurrect Russian influence as much as possible beyond the borders,” she said. “So the stakes are huge here.”

If, as Clinton told me, the Russians had deployed a “new form of warfare” to upend American democratic processes, what should President Obama have done in the closing act of the campaign? At a summit in China, Obama told Putin to back off from any election tampering, and he talked about the issue at a press conference. But he did not raise the stakes. Figuring that Clinton would win, Obama was wary of being seen as tipping the election to her and confirming Trump’s constant assertions that the vote was rigged against him. When the C.I.A. first told Obama, in August, that the Russians had been meddling in the Presidential race, the agency shared the information with the Gang of Eight—the congressional leadership and the chairs and the ranking members of the intelligence committees. The Administration asked for a bipartisan statement of warning. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, adamantly refused, muffling for weeks any sense of national alarm.

“I feel we sort of choked,” one senior Obama Administration official told the Washington Post. Another former Administration official said that national-security people were feeling, “Wow, did we mishandle this.” Clinton, in her book, gingerly “wonders” what the effect might have been had Obama gone on national television in the fall of 2016 “warning that our democracy was under attack.” I asked her whether Obama had failed—whether the issue should have been treated less as a narrowcasted political problem and more as a grave national-security threat.

“Well, I think that I’m very understanding of the position he found himself in,” she said. “Because I’ve been in that Situation Room, I know how hard these calls can be. And I believe that they struggled with this, and they were facing some pretty difficult headwinds.” She was less restrained in her description of the Senate Majority Leader’s behavior. “Mitch McConnell, in what I think of as a not only unpatriotic but despicable act of partisan politics, made it clear that if the Obama Administration spoke publicly about what they knew, he would accuse them of partisan politics, of trying to tip the balance toward me,” she said. “McConnell basically threatened the White House, and I know that was on the President’s mind. It was a predicament for him.” She also lambasted James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who “refused to publicly acknowledge that there was an investigation, and, with the height of irony, said, ‘Well, you can’t do that so close to the election.’ ” (Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the investigation had not progressed to the point where disclosure would have been appropriate.)

All the same, I asked, did President Obama blow it?

Clinton paused, and spoke very carefully: “I would have, in retrospect now, wished that he had said something, because I think the American people deserved to know.”

In “What Happened,” Clinton, by way of demanding national resolve against a Russian threat, quotes a maxim attributed to Vladimir Lenin: “You take a bayonet and you push. If you hit mush, you keep going; if you hit steel, you stop.”

“Were we mush?” I asked about the Obama Administration’s response.

Now she did not hesitate. “I think we were mushy,” she said. “Partly because we couldn’t believe it. Richard Clarke, who is one of our nation’s experts on terrorism, has written a book about Cassandras,” unheeded predictors of calamity. “And there was a collective Cassandra out there—my campaign was part of that—saying, ‘The Russians are in our electoral system, the Russians are weaponizing information, look at it!’ And everybody in the press basically thought we were overstating, exaggerating, making it up. And Comey wouldn’t confirm an investigation, so there was nothing to hold on to. And I think that the point Clarke makes is when you have an initial occurrence that has never happened before, some people might see it and try to warn about it, but most people would find it unlikely, impossible. And what I fear is we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what the Russians did.”

Surprisingly, Clinton and her advisers believe that the most dramatic day of the campaign, October 7th, the day of the “Access Hollywood” tape, was a disaster for them. Early that day, the director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security released a statement concluding that the Russians had been attempting to interfere in the U.S. election process. But when, shortly afterward, the Washington Post released the tape—in which Donald Trump describes how he grabs women by the genitals and moves on them “like a bitch”—the D.H.S. statement was eclipsed. “My heart sank,” Jennifer Palmieri, a top Clinton adviser, recalled. “My first reaction was ‘No! Focus on the intelligence statement!’ The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape was not good for Trump, obviously, but it was more likely to hurt him with the people who were already against him. His supporters had made their peace with his awful behavior.”

That evening, a third media vortex formed, as Julian Assange went to work. WikiLeaks began to dole out a new tranche of stolen e-mails. “It seemed clear to us that the Russians were again being guided by our politics,” Clinton said. “Someone was offering very astute political advice about how to weaponize information, how to convey it, how to use the existing Russian outlets, like RT or Sputnik, how to use existing American vehicles, like Facebook.”

Clinton has little doubt that Assange was working with the Russians. “I think he is part nihilist, part anarchist, part exhibitionist, part opportunist, who is either actually on the payroll of the Kremlin or in some way supporting their propaganda objectives, because of his resentment toward the United States, toward Europe,” she said. “He’s like a lot of the voices that we’re hearing now, which are expressing appreciation for the macho authoritarianism of a Putin. And they claim to be acting in furtherance of transparency, except they never go after the Kremlin or people on that side of the political ledger.” She said she put Assange and Edward Snowden, who leaked extensive details of N.S.A. surveillance programs, “in the same bucket—they both end up serving the strategic goals of Putin.” She said that, despite Snowden’s insistence that he remains an independent actor, it was “no accident he ended up in Moscow.”

In assessing all the reasons she was defeated last November, Clinton believes that the critical factor was not her failures of tactics or rhetoric, not her misreading of the national Zeitgeist, not her inability to put her e-mail-server blunder to rest, and not even the manipulations of foreign cyberwarriors. The critical factor, in her view, was “the Comey letter”—James Comey’s announcement, eleven days before the election, that the F.B.I. had, in the course of a criminal investigation of the former congressman Anthony Weiner, discovered a cache of e-mails from her that required further study. This revived the e-mail issue that had plagued the campaign from the day in March, 2015, when the Times broke the story that Clinton, while Secretary of State, had maintained a private server and merged her personal and professional accounts. The polling expert Nate Silver concluded, “Clinton would almost certainly be President-Elect if the election had been held on October 27,” the day before Comey released his letter. Silver’s analysis was that Comey’s announcement led to a three-point plunge for Clinton, reducing her chances of winning from eighty-one per cent to sixty-five. Moreover, Silver said, had it not been for the Comey letter and the WikiLeaks publication of stolen e-mails, Clinton would have taken Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida. In the end, she lost Florida by 1.2 points, and the others by less than a point.

Clinton talked about the spike in Google searches about WikiLeaks which had been spurred by the Comey letter—particularly in Pennsylvania, “where maybe Obama had squeaked out a win in a town or a county.” “That’s when the bottom fell out,” she said. “Particularly with women in the suburbs of Philadelphia and elsewhere, who thought, Well, that’s it, I wanted to vote for her, I was fighting with my husband, with my son, with my employer, and I told them I was going to vote for her, but they’re right, she’s going to jail, we’re gonna lock her up, I can’t vote for her.”

Time and investigation will tell whether Donald Trump or his surrogates colluded in any foreign interference in the election; what is entirely clear is that he was, with his penchant for exploiting an enemy’s weakness, eager to add weight to the heavy baggage that Clinton, after thirty-five years in public life, carried into the campaign. Trump, who lives in gilded penthouses and palaces, who flies in planes and helicopters emblazoned with his name, who does business with mobsters, campaigned in 2016 by saying that he spoke for the working man, that he alone heard them and felt their anger, and by branding Hillary Clinton an “élitist,” out of touch with her country. The irony is as easy as it is enormous, and yet Clinton made it possible. She practically kicked off her campaign by telling Diane Sawyer that the reason she and her husband cashed in on the lecture circuit on such an epic scale was that, when they left the White House, in 2001, they were “dead broke.” As earnestly as she has worked on behalf of women, the disadvantaged, and many other constituencies, Clinton does not, for many people, radiate a sense of empathy. A resident of a bubble of power since her days in the Arkansas governor’s mansion, she makes it hard even for many supporters to imagine that her feet ever touch the ground. In “What Happened,” she describes how, when considering whether to run again in 2016, she had to consider all her negatives—“Clinton fatigue,” the dynastic question, her age, the accumulated distrust between her and the press—and then says that she completed the deliberative process by going to stay with Oscar and Annette de la Renta at Casa de Campo, their retreat in the Dominican Republic. “We swam, we ate good food, and thought about the future. By the time we got back, I was ready to run.” This is perhaps not a universally relatable anecdote. Nor did she see much wrong with giving twenty-odd million dollars’ worth of speeches, including to Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions, conceding only that it was, in hindsight, bad “optics.” (“I didn’t think many Americans would believe that I’d sell a lifetime of principle and advocacy for any price,” she writes. “That’s on me.”)

In 2012, Obama won over many working-class voters in the Midwest and elsewhere by reminding them that he had saved the automobile industry and, through strokes broad and subtle, by painting Mitt Romney as the heartless boss who would have handed out the pink slips. Despite Trump’s wealth and his televised role as a big shot who took glee in firing people, “Hillary somehow got portrayed the way Romney did,” a close adviser to Clinton told me. “Those people felt she was against them. It was super gendered and classist. It’s hugely complicated, but she was the uppity woman. . . . Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump drove the message that ‘she looks down on you.’ The ‘deplorable’ thing was awful, but she was losing those people hard by then.”

Clinton’s relation to the press has always been vexed. In the book, Clinton singles out the Times for hammering away at her e-mail issue in a way that she says overwhelmed any negative coverage of Trump. “The Times covered her like she was a Mafia figure,” one adviser said.

This dynamic has a long history. It was the Times that, during the 1992 Presidential campaign, initially broached the Whitewater story—a saga of relatively modest indiscretions and misdeeds. In the White House, the Clintons responded to further inquiries with defensiveness and stubborn resistance, which reinforced suspicion in the press, and the cycle led to conspiracy thinking all around. This cycle of mutual mistrust has continued on and off since then. It was not long before reporters, many of them broadly sympathetic to left-of-center politics, came to view the Clintons with weary skepticism. For other pundits, Hillary Clinton, in particular, came off as sanctimonious, with her New Age homilies about “the politics of meaning.” The Clintons, in turn, came to see the press as the enemy.

In 1993, I was invited to a White House dinner for about fifty people. The Clintons evidently wanted to reëstablish some rapport with the press. I was seated next to Hillary. For much of the dinner, she complained about “Saint Hillary,” a caustic profile, by Michael Kelly, published in the Times Magazine. Kelly saw Clinton as a self-righteous First Lady who thought she could help concoct a “unified-field theory of life” that encompassed the social gospel of the nineteenth century, the “temperance-minded Methodism” of the twentieth century, the liberation theology of the sixties and seventies, and “the pacifistic and multiculturally correct religious left of today.” Kelly sternly concluded that Clinton “clearly wants power” and had “amassed more of it than any First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.”

From those days onward, Clinton has known that she inspired hostility. Twenty-one years ago, in an article for this magazine called “Hating Hillary,” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., she admitted, “I apparently remind some people of their mother-in-law or their boss, or something.” In the same piece, Arianna Huffington remarks on Clinton’s “self-righteousness,” Peggy Noonan on her “apple-cheeked certitude.” Gates observed that Clinton was widely perceived as Mrs. Jellyby, the character in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House” who is as “intent on improving humanity as she is cavalier toward actual human beings . . . the zealous reformer with a heart as big as all Antarctica.”

Such ingrained habits of media antagonism proved to be another factor that allowed Trump, the biggest liar in the history of Presidential politics, to be seen by tens of millions of people as a figure of rude authenticity, their champion. In Clinton’s view, she could never win with people who had been trained to regard her as a high-minded phony. Her wariness and evasions drained their sympathy; her strained attempts to win people back too often fell flat. Why couldn’t she be admired for her intelligence, her competence, her experience?

In “What Happened,” she voices her sense of exasperation:

I’ll bet you know more about my private life than you do about some of your closest friends. You’ve read my e-mails, for heaven’s sake. What more do you need? What could I do to be “more real”? Dance on a table? Swear a blue streak? Break down sobbing? That’s not me. And if I had done any of those things, what would have happened? I’d have been ripped to pieces.

She acknowledges that her caution had sometimes made her seem guarded (and “prompted the question, ‘What is she hiding?’ ”), but she notes that many men in politics, though far less scrutinized, aren’t asked to “open up, reveal themselves, prove that they’re real.”

Clinton has come to believe that there is an overriding reason that she has aroused such resentment: her gender. In the book, she points out that both Bill Clinton, as the fatherless son from “a town called Hope,” and Barack Obama, as the son of a Kenyan father and a white idealist, had capsule life stories that helped them reach voters. Clinton was the first woman to have a serious chance to win the Presidency, but “I was unlikely to be seen as a transformative, revolutionary figure. I had been on the national stage too long for that and my temperament was too even-keeled.”

When I asked about this, I pointed out that her popularity was always high when she ran something—when she was Secretary of State, her approval rating was nearly seventy per cent—but suffered when she ran for things.

“I was running something in service to someone else,” she told me. “A man. Who I was honored to serve. And so I knew that if I did get into the Presidential race again I would face what women face when you are not serving someone, but you are seeking power yourself.”

Clinton said that she has learned from life, as well as from studies and from conversations with the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, that “the more successful a man becomes, the more likable he becomes; the more professionally successful a woman becomes, the less likable she becomes.” Her situation, she said, “was Clinton-specific, plus sexism and misogyny.”

But why, when half the voters are female, should gender prove an even greater barrier in American electoral politics than race? I mentioned other countries that have female heads of state, including Great Britain and Germany.

“I think part of it is our system,” she said. “And we don’t yet have that audience. I hope it will change, especially for young women. We have a Presidential system. We have one person—head of state, head of government. Most of the places you mention have a different head of state, to carry on all of the symbolic continuity, whether it’s the crown or the nation, and the head of government is charged with the responsibility of being a political leader. . . . Parliamentary systems, historically, have proven more open to women. And why would that be? Because you have a party apparatus to support you. You can build relationships and a good sense of competence with your fellow party members. And they can see how effective you are and elect you leader. But you only have to run in your constituency, which is a much smaller and more defined—and, in many ways, open—opportunity to build personal relationships with those who are in your constituency. You know, when I ran for the Senate the first time, here in New York, I won, I think, fifteen counties. Next time I ran, I won all but three.” Close: all but four. “Because I could build that personal relationship, I could produce results, I could demonstrate that I was fighting for the people of New York.”

It’s true that, throughout the campaign, Clinton was described—by Trump, by his surrogates, and by countless people on social media—in the ugliest terms: weak, sickly, a criminal, physically repellent. Clinton, in her book, tells of how, during the second debate, just two days after the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape, she wanted to wheel around at Trump, who was “breathing down my neck,” and say, “Back up, you creep, get away from me, I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.” Instead, she bit her tongue and kept going.

She castigates Trump for inflaming and giving “permission” to misogynists and racists. “Those attitudes have never gone away,” she told me. “But we had successfully—and this is part of the role of civilization—we had rendered them unacceptable: being an overt racist, being an overt misogynist, saying the terrible things that Trump said about immigrants or Muslims. All of that was not political correctness. It was respect. It was tolerance. It was acceptance. But there was a growing resentment, anger, that came to full flower in this election. . . . The Internet has given voice to, and a home for, so many more people. And so with Trump to light the match, from the first day of his campaign to the last, there was a sense of acceptance, liberation, empowerment for these forces.”

Did Clinton stand by her campaign line that a substantial number of Trump’s voters were “deplorables”? She shifted quickly from self-reflection to attack mode.

“I think Trump has behaved in a deplorable manner, both during his campaign and as President,” she said. “I think he has given permission to others to engage in deplorable behavior, as we did see in Charlottesville and elsewhere. So I don’t take back the description that I made of him and a number of his core supporters.”

In conversation and in the book, Clinton’s pain is manifest. When it comes to feminism and her role in the women’s movement, she says, she never figured out “how to tell the story right.” And the country, she believes, is not ready to hear it. Or, at least, not from her. “That’s not who we are,” she writes. “Not yet.”

Elsewhere in the book, she writes, “As the campaign went on, polls showed that a significant number of Americans questioned my authenticity and trustworthiness. A lot of people said they just didn’t like me. I write that matter-of-factly, but believe me, it’s devastating. Some of this is a direct result of my actions: I’ve made mistakes, been defensive about them, stubbornly resisted apologizing. But so have most men in politics. (In fact, one of them just became President with a strategy of ‘never apologize when you’re wrong, just attack harder.’)”

The women in her circle of friends and advisers are particularly outraged by the way that Trump was able to win so many votes among working-class white women. “Trump was, like, I am going to paint a picture of her as someone who will come steal your children and take your guns,” one said. “The million-dollar question will be: What will happen when it isn’t Hillary Clinton, when it’s another woman? For now, neither women nor men trust the ambition of women.”

A few hours after our conversation, I went uptown to Riverside Church, where Clinton was scheduled to hold a public conversation with Bill Shillady, a Methodist minister and a family friend who during the campaign had e-mailed Clinton hundreds of morning devotionals—Bible passages with accompanying short sermons—and who had helped officiate at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, in 2010, to Marc Mezvinsky. Now he was publishing those devotionals as a book called “Strong for a Moment Like This.”

Clinton was doing Shillady a kindness, but even in this she couldn’t catch a break. The day before the event, the publisher, Abingdon Press, announced that it was withdrawing the book because it was filled with passages plagiarized from other pastors and sources. Shillady issued an apology, but, naturally, Clinton took the hit in the press. In her fashion, Clinton soldiered through, holding the conversation with another Methodist minister, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli.

The pews were filled with New Yorkers, a majority of them women, who had come to hear Clinton, to shower her with praise, to soothe her and themselves. In the introduction, Amy Butler, the senior minister at Riverside and a friend of Clinton’s, referred to the Trump Administration as a source of anguish and confusion, and everyone nodded solemnly. One got the sense that there would be hundreds of such events in the coming years for Hillary Clinton, and one wondered if they would do anything to ease the sense of failure, the anger at all the forces she could not begin to control. “We praise God for who you are,” a bishop said from the podium. “And most of all, Sister Hillary, we love you.”

Clinton was greeted with a long ovation, which she met with her signature slow head-nodding and an expression at once pleased and pained. She talked about her Methodist church in Illinois, her youth minister, Don Jones, and her trip to Orchestra Hall, in downtown Chicago, to hear Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver one of his most famous sermons, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”

Asked how she was managing, she made her joke about drinking “my fair share of Chardonnay.” She quoted from Galatians: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Her message was endurance, which has always been her watchword. And she made it plain what the election had unleashed.

“Where does that cruelty, that mean-spiritedness, come from?” she said. “It’s not from Christianity. It’s not from people of faith.” This was another source of confusion for her: the evangelical vote went not to the devout Methodist but, rather, to the guy who referred to “Two Corinthians.”

Again, the applause came, but it seemed not to lighten her at all. After the event was over, after the last handshakes, after the last selfie, Clinton climbed in the back seat of her car, the Secret Service all around, and headed back to her white house in the woods. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the September 25, 2017, issue, with the headline “Still Here.”

*David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

Book Review: ‘What Happened’ by Hillary Rodham Clinton


September 18, 2017

Book Review: ‘What Happened’ by Hillary Rodham Clinton

http://www.sfchronicle.com/books/article/What-Happened-by-Hillary-Rodham-Clinton-12201891.php

 

 “I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.”–Hillary Rodham Clinton

On the second page of “What Happened,” Hillary Clinton accepts responsibility for her loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

“I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

She then proceeds to spend many of the next nearly 500 pages apportioning blame on others for the result of an election that she was so confident of winning. She had spent the closing days of the campaign polishing her victory speech and devouring memos on the impending transition.

“There had been no doomsday scenarios playing out in my head in the final days, no imagining what I might say if I lost,” she says of election night. “I just didn’t think about it. But now it was as real as could be, and I was struggling to get my head around it. It was like all the air in the room had been sucked away, and I could barely breathe.”

Clinton is hardly alone in her shock, or in the struggle to assess how a man she described as unqualified, immature and even dangerous became leader of the free world, which helps explain why “What Happened” shot to the top of the best-seller list in its first week.

“What Happened” contains anecdotes that will be alternately uplifting and heartbreaking to her most ardent supporters. Detractors will seize on ammunition for affirmation of her sanctimony and inauthenticity.

Image result for hillary clinton's what happenedJames Comey is a convenient excuse for her defeat. “Clinton was decidedly selective in her apportioning of blame” ( John Diaz).

Yes, there is no shortage of score settling and excuses in this book. But let’s face it: The book would be much less interesting — and, frankly, less honest — without her sometimes caustic airing of grievances.

Most of the prerelease excerpts focused on what she said about culpability of others in her defeat: the elbow-throwing of her opponent in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders; a news media preoccupied with her emails and insufficiently focused on policy or Trump’s flaws; the double standard applied to women in politics; the hesitancy of a devout supporter, President Barack Obama, to adequately warn Americans about the threat from Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Most pointedly, Clinton faults the actions of FBI Director James Comey. His October 28 announcement that he was reopening the email probe, she wrote, was a fatal blow at a time she was gaining momentum.

“Even if Comey caused just 0.6 percent of Election Day voters to change their votes, and even if that swing only occurred in the Rust Belt, it would have been enough to shift the Electoral College” outcome, she writes.

Clinton correctly anticipated that “What Happened” would engender criticism about her raising myriad factors that worked against her, from “the audacious information warfare waged from the Kremlin” to the “deep currents of anger and resentment” in American culture.

“I understand why some people don’t want to hear anything that sounds remotely like ‘relitigating’ the election,” she writes. “People are tired. Some are traumatized. Others are focused on keeping the discussion about Russia in the national security realm and away from politics. I get all that. But it’s important that we understand what really happened. Because that’s the only way we can stop it from happening again.”

Image result for hillary clinton blames Bernie Sanders for her electoral defeat

As with any politician’s account of a campaign, “What Happened” is less than the definitive word on what really happened in 2016. Accounts by journalists and historians in the mold of Theodore White (his “Making of the President” series set the standard) tend to be richer in revelation, more illuminating in context and more thorough in scope.

The best of these accounts carry no impulse to try to rationalize or rewrite a campaign narrative. Clinton was decidedly selective in her apportioning of blame.

For example, she was highly critical of media coverage, especially the comparative volume given to Trump and the fact that his offenses and miscues “rarely stuck,” as she put it. It is certainly true that the outrage, gaffes and vitriol of the Trump campaign was news and, in normal times, would have been a liability. But it also important to note that Trump was subjected to more fact checking and critical analyses than any nominee in modern times.

Besides, Clinton did herself no favors by severely rationing her media accessibility. She did not have a news conference for the first eight months of 2016; she declined invitations to meet with editorial boards of most major U.S. newspapers, including The Chronicle. It’s disingenuous to complain about inattention to policy positions while passing up opportunities to subject them to public scrutiny.

One of the favorite conservative talking points about the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is along the lines of, “Vladimir Putin didn’t prevent Hillary Clinton from campaigning in Wisconsin.” She attempts to serve up answers for her loss in a Democratic-leaning state. She cited a new voter ID law as well as polls that suggested she was comfortably ahead, perhaps because Trump voters refused to participate.

As with her rationalization of her use of a private email server as secretary of state, Clinton’s explanation of her Wisconsin defeat is a bit too long, a bit too deflective, a bit too at odds with her repeated claim that “I blame myself” for Trump’s election.

For those who long for what might have been, Clinton offers a look at the closing riff of the victory speech she expected to give on election night. It brought her to tears every time she read it. She had hoped to speak of her dream of going back in time to be with her mother, abandoned by her parents at age 8, on the train to California to live with her grandparents.

Clinton imagines taking the 8-year-old Dorothy Rodham in her arms.

“Look at me. Listen to me. You will survive,” a President-elect Clinton would have said in her victory speech. “You will have a good family of your own, and three children. And as hard as it might be to imagine, your daughter will grow up and become President of the United States.”

With the publication of “What Happened,” those words, those dreams — and those tears — can now be shared. The answer to the question of “what really happened?” remains elusive.

John Diaz is The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page editor. Email: jdiaz@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JohnDiazChron

What Happened

By Hillary Rodham Clinton

(Simon & Schuster; 494 pages; $30)