[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Sowing Confusion about Fusion

The Surrealist artist Salvador Dali, whom you may know best for his quirky mustache and his painting featuring melting clocks, once said:

What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.

Apropos, when one thinks of Surrealism as a rebellious response to predictable and rigid political dogma up to and after World War I.

Trump has indulged in surrealism throughout the last six months in office, breaking expected and legislated norms of behavior. Some of this is a deliberate effort to effect change on our government; some of it is gaslighting, to force us to look at everything differently, suspiciously, to doubt ourselves.

And some of it is simply ass covering, hiding beneath a fog of bullshit.

On Saturday morning, Fearless Leader tweeted,

This looks like part of a new strategy, to appear as if he is not and has not been sympathetic and in sync with Russia’s Putin.

Such a strategy can explain the tenuous stance on Congress’ latest Russian sanctions bill. Trump hasn’t fully committed to signing the bill; as it was passed on July 25, the bill may be pocket vetoed depending on when Congress decides to go on August break. Trump dragged his feet for a week before signing the bill today with a whiny signing statement expressing concerns about the sanctions.*

But buried in that tweet is an effort to undermine the Steele dossier by replying on Fox News to attack the consulting firm which contracted the dossier’s production. Trump himself doesn’t mention Fusion GPS nor even the dossier, but relies on the narrative Fox pushes that morning to speak for him.

(NB: timing for future reference — Trumps’s July 29 tweet is at 7:07 a.m. EDT. Embedded Fox and Friends’ tweet is 4:15 a.m. EDT with a link to a July 27 story. That’s 2:07 p.m. and 11: 15 a.m. Moscow time, respectively.)

Fox News’ article discusses hedge fund manager Bill Browder’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in relation to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He testified on July 26 about Sergei Magnitsky, Russia’s corruption, and the Magnitsky Act; in his written statement published the previous day as well as during his testimony (video), he shared that Fusion GPS had been contracted to work against the Magnitsky Act.

This is the point which is pushed by Fox, indirectly by Trump — that Fusion GPS worked for the Russians.

We’re meant to question Fusion’s agenda; we’re meant to believe the talking point sown about that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were working with the Russians to undermine Donald Trump.

The poisoning of Fusion’s image doesn’t originate just from Trump or Fox News as quasi-state media.

The GOP jumped into this by posting a so-helpful page about Fusion on July 25 — the same day Browder’s written statement was published, days before Trump would make a veiled allusion to Fusion’s agenda.

Which should tell us not to put any faith in GOP members of Congress doing the right thing based on how deeply the party is committed to protecting Trump’s butt.

Although the GOP may also be protecting more than Trump by poisoning Fusion’s reputation. Fusion was originally hired to do opposition work on Trump — but they were hired to do so by a Jeb Bush supporter. Though the Democratic side of the presidential race eventually had interest in Fusion’s opposition research, the work began during the GOP primary race.

The trail to the funder(s) has been conveniently fuzzed. The BBC first reported Jeb Bush or his campaign hired Fusion, but a vigorous denial and a take-down demand changed reports to say that “unidentified Republicans” were responsible for employing Fusion to do anti-Trump opposition work.

The distancing continued with claims Hillary Clinton and/or the Clinton campaign hired Fusion, though it appears the truth is closer to “Democratic supporters” did so after Trump became the GOP’s presumptive nominee in spring 2016.

“Democratic supporters” doesn’t rule out anti-Trump members of the GOP who crossed the aisle and threw behind Clinton last year.

This may explain why the GOP has been working for some time on linking Fusion to Clinton so tightly — well before Browder’s testimony last week. The party is protecting someone(s) in their ranks from not only the Trump-Russia investigation, but Trump and Russia.

There was one other witness who testified before the Senate last week who spoke of Fusion GPS. It’s telling that Trump, Fox News, other right-wing media like the Weekly Standard, and the GOP have avoided mentioning this second witness.

Human Rights Foundation’s president Thor Halvorssen’s statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee outlined Fusion’s role in a Venezuelan corruption scandal. Fusion was hired to suppressed mainstream media reporting about investigations and court cases related to the scandal, which included money laundering through at least one major American investment bank.

Venezuela is and has been in a deep state of turmoil for several years; the corruption the U.S. hasn’t read about exacerbates Venezuela’s condition. Its political crisis has finally cracked the news here, and in part because of the Trump administration’s sanctions against its leadership and the amount of Venezuelan oil products the U.S. consumes. The rise in gasoline and oil prices over the last two months may be related in part to market volatility because of Venezuela’s crisis.

And while Venezuela may be sitting on a very large oil reserve, so is Russia and whomever now owns that 19.5% share of Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft. The fortunes of GOP investors who own shares in or entire businesses related to oil production and processing also benefit from the increase in oil prices, profits from which may help fund the GOP and its candidates. It’s no wonder, then, the GOP and right-wing media focus on tying Fusion to Clinton and Russia in any way possible while avoiding Fusion’s work related to Venezuela.

So who does Fusion really work for?

As far as I can tell, any political entity with the money to hire their services. This is the best explanation for Fusion’s Glenn Simpson refusal to testify publicly before the Senate — they are competitive intelligence and media guns for hire, and asking them to disclose who hired them in public would damage their ability to contract freely with whomever approaches them, whether Republican, Democrat, or neither in the case of corporations.

There is one other point the Trump-GOP-Fox-right-wing media can’t adequately obscure, though they have done what they could to damage Fusion’s image.

Last summer, after gathering intelligence about Team Trump’s ties to Russia, the former MI6 officer was so concerned about his findings that he approached the FBI to share what he found.

It’s both strange and interesting that the Trump-GOP-Fox-right-wing media smear campaign against Fusion hasn’t mentioned this.

Surreal, one might say.

_________
* The sanctions bill was signed while I was in the middle of writing this. I can’t write fast enough to keep up with the crazy.

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21 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    This is NOT an open thread. Please stay on topic — all things directly related to Fusion GPS, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about FARA, Trump-Russia.

    Please go to the most recent open thread for everything else to keep threads from getting too long (annoying to read on mobile devices’ smaller displays). Thanks.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    Given that the Fusion connection is the only potentially plausible thing linking Russia to the DNC (and by extension HRC) of course the GOP is going to play it up as a “both-sides” deflection.  I would also expect it to turn up in the House Judiciary Committee’s review (after yet another Benghazi witch hunt because it’s habit now for the GOP) because of the mere possibility that it might stick.

    Nonetheless, it is clear the only party that used Russian opposition research was the GOP, which to me tends to discount any Fusion-DNC connection.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    I wonder if Trump will count the Russia sanctions bill in his next listing of legislative achievements (“I have signed more Great Bills than any other President!!”).

    “So who does Fusion really work for?  As far as I can tell, any political entity with the money to hire their services.”  I bet that’s a 2,000 year old answer, no?

    • Rayne says:

      That far back, a consultancy like this was more likely to be part of the government’s apparatus, embedded in a court. Some abacus-flipper probably calculated the effect of killing first born sons for Herod before he dispatched his military.

      • bloopie2 says:

        Right!  And today we have people who do such calculations for $$.  Ain’t life grand?
        (For some reason, “The Truman Show” came to mind when I was thinking to write that last line.  Turns out it’s not something Jim Carrey said, but, fascinatingly, there are a lot of lines from that film that are quite apropos to The Trump Show.  Here are some, cribbed from the IMDB site.
        Christof: We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.
        Truman: Was nothing real?  Christof: You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch…
        Mike: Since the show is on 24 hours a day without commercial interruption, all those staggering revenues are generated by product placement. Christof: That’s true. Everything on the show is for sale. From the actors’ wardrobe, food products, to the very homes they live in. Mike: And of course, all of it available in the Truman catalogue and operators are standing by.
        Marlon: [Emotional almost to the point of tears] The point is, I would gladly step in front of traffic for you, Truman. And the last thing I would ever do to you… Christof: [Feeding Marlon his lines] … is lie to you. Marlon: …is lie to you.
         
        Ain’t life grand?)

  4. arbusto says:

    Just a WHAG on GOP Russia CYA is Congress critter Rohrabacher. He unabashingly carries Russias water. Seems odd for a wingnut to so love things Russia.

  5. Rugger9 says:

    SHS is getting a lot of questions at the presser today about why Caesar Disgustus signed the sanctions bill, and I for one recall the signing statements that Shrub would append gutting any commitment to faithfully executing the laws of the land.  So, he signed it but make sure that Rexxon (we might make Putin mad) will work with Trump to gut its provisions.  It remains to be seen what Putin will do, and whether the back channel will mitigate the blow back.  C.D. may be forced into a corner about this, even to the point of giving back the dachas.

    The question of Congressional anger about the meddling is not trivial, even though the GOP is highly hypocritical to join in after profiting from the meddling so handsomely.  However, I also don’t think that many of the vets (the RW ones, not all of us) that populate the militia fringe will be the least bit amused to be doing the bidding of an adversary many of those vets spent their military careers opposing.  Trump’s leverage is his 30-something percent base that vote in large enough numbers in GOP primaries to keep the GOP in line.

    So, even though Jeff Flake (SHS says he needs to do what his constituents want) fired the shot across the bow, he also votes pro-Trump more than 95% of the time and it’s the flying monkey “base”that makes him do it. I don’t see how C.D. can square this circle publicly, so whatever he and Rexxon cooks up will be done secretly to keep Putin happy, and FWIW I think the dachas don’t go back because someone will ask.

  6. emptywheel says:

    Huh.

    I’ve actually covered Fusion’s real conflicts going back months and months, so this is not a recent thing. Moreover, the conflicts are problematic. If Fusion had RU sources on staff, why did they bring in Steele? What explains Steele’s belated disclosures about MI6 involvement? What explains US IC’s obviously false claims about when they knew about the dossier?

    Hillary’s people (and Jeb!s) have gotten a pass on their own sleazy intelligence gathering, and the real problems with the dossier have been ignored by those who want it to be more than it is. That in no way means the allegations of corruption in it aren’t true. It means that people need to admit that the Steele dossier is problematic.

    • Rayne says:

      Whole thing stinks. Given the Venezuela work, Fusion looks more like a front to me but I don’t have enough to base this on apart from comparing the anti-Trump work versus VZ. Which may be why Fusion was first (indirectly) attached to Jeb!s campaign.

      But if there’s no there there AND Fusion isn’t credible, why are both Team Trump and GOP trying so hard to create a very narrow narrative between Team Trump and anything Russia? Too much smoke.

      Oh, and I hope you noticed the bank involved in VZ. Enough to make you wonder again about that breach a couple of years ago when they had to tell shareholders about the potential material exposure.

    • lefty665 says:

      Thank you Marcy. Keeping it reality based is what makes EW an attractive site.

      [Sucking up doesn’t change the fact you were told to stay out of my threads, this being one of them. Out. — Rayne]

  7. orionATL says:

    emptywheel –

    “… Hillary’s people (and Jeb!s) have gotten a pass on their own sleazy intelligence gathering, and the real problems with the dossier have been ignored by those who want it to be more than it is…”

    why the diversion tactic ew?

    1. every political campaign for years has done opo research and i have never heard any of it praised for good works. so what’s this sudden concern of yours about clinton and bush opo being” given a pass”?

    the issue rayne is discussing is an obvious effort to defuse the steele dossier not by attacking the dossier or its author but by attacking the research firm that hired steelexand was hired to ptotect russian kleptocrats access to their money. why doesn’t trump team attack the dossier? why attack fusion only if dossier is the concern?

    2. what is the connection if any between magnitsky act and sanctions and russian co-operation with the trump campaign? was there a quid-pro-quo promised in meetings between sessions, kushner, flynn, et al involving voter manipulation/financing and sanctions relief?

    these are the big questions?

    can you point out how revelations about clinton or bush opo work would be relevant to this greater issue?

    and i’ll throw in the unspoken concern i suspect lies behind all this diversion to democrats’ conduct by the trump team, the russian, and some american commentators:

    what happens to the neatly worked out and clearly deeply held belief that clinton lost because she and the dem party were incompetent, if instead it turns out that she lost because of a massive voter manipulation effort by trump and the ruskys?

    • emptywheel says:

      Lies about a key part of this story are a diversionary tactic?

      No. Fusion is sleazy. And yes, that does make it a juicy target for obfuscation.

  8. orionATL says:

    here’s a thoughtful bit of commentary, an example of the sort we can expect the mighty whorlitzer to began playing endlessly as the mueller investigation continues and gets closer to what trump and his inside gang know to be the truth.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2017/06/19/is-russiagate-really-hillarygate/#555527885cf6

    this kind of propaganda both keeps the trump faithful faithful and guarantees that a sector of the ametican public will be innoculated and resistant to any findings mueller reports that are critical of trump.

    there is a long history in this country of corporations and political entities cooking up campaigns to discredit truth tellers. campaigns, for example, against scientists who said smoking was bad for one’s health and against scientists warning against climate change. similarly, advertising campaigns against clean air and clean water rules, against beachfront and tidal marsh development, against forest destruction and overfishing.

    the russians organized such a campaign against browder, magnitsky, and the magnitsky law. nothing keeps the trump hordes from doing the same except public exposure – the bleach of pure sunshine.

    maybe it would be a good thing to discredit the basis of this sort of propaganda before it gets a hold on the american press and public. what do you think?

  9. Rugger9 says:

    And, let’s not forget Devin Nunes’ trip to the WH, will Mueller consider that part of the cover-up exercise?  Nunes ought to know that the best way to blow the investigation is to give the witness immunity, after all it worked for Ollie North.

    This was all about the “unmasking” that McMaster said wasn’t Susan Rice’s fault but strangely not released by the WH. It’s a befuddlement….

  10. orionATL says:

    [email protected]:09

    “… Lies about a key part of this story are a diversionary tactic?..”

    well, yes. and i suspect more diversion, but i could be wrong.

    what lies are you thinking of, ew? can you be very specific?

    are you thinking of the lie the intell community told about not knowing about the steele dossier?

    of course the ic learned about it early. and of course under the circumstances of a political campaign in which they would have instantly and widely been accused of encouraging or manufacturing a lie (steele dossier), they would lie about having any knowledge of the that dossier. so would have you were you in their shoes. repeat, so would you have!

    and of course someone in the never-trump group would pass fusion research on to a clinton supporter when it was no longer usable to those republicans. what is so offensive about this?

    as it happens, the steele dossier does not seem very important to this matter of the trumpses, the trump campaign, and russian assistance, if any, in manipulating voters’ choices. so why raise it, ew?

    right now, with all the multiple people-points of trump campaign workers/officials who flagrantly lied whole-cloth about contacts with russians, who needs the difficult-to-untangle and verify sterle dossier? it has become almost irrelevant.

    with that thought in mind, i adk again why raise the diversion involving the clinton and bush campaigns’ involvement with fusion/steele this far along in the evolving saga?

    and also again, would you please list out or cite the clinton “sleezy intelligence gathering” that bothers you. i’d like to know what it is and read about it and evaluate it myself. i have not previously heard that the clinton campaign was especially or uniquely sleezy in its intelligence gathering.

  11. PG says:

    Given Halvorssen’s testimony regarding the use of defamatory dossiers and smear campaigns against journalists, doesn’t that (along with Browder’s testimony) spark legitimate skepticism of their work in general — including the Trump dossier?

    • Rayne says:

      Thought about this overnight; let’s put aside any ethical judgment about the work they did, look only at the output as a client would. If Fusion was hired to squelch reporting on Venezuela based on intelligence they gathered, they were effective at what they did. If they were effective at that, why should the Steele dossier as output be considered less than other work product?

  12. PG says:

    orionATL says:
    August 3, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    First, I realize I’m jumping in on your conversation here but I find some of your points interesting, though I strongly disagree and I have poor impulse control so please forgive and/or disregard my intrusion.

    Primarily, the point, “as it happens, the Steele dossier does not seem very important,” — Since the dossier is the source of the “collusion” allegations, its veracity would seem to be important.

    Also, the point, “multiple people-points of trump campaign workers/officials who flagrantly lied whole-cloth about contacts with russians…”

    The lies are evidence of a cover-up… of something… But, we have a president who is very likely a pathological liar, who may not even understand when he is lying, who is wreaking havoc not only on the country but on those who work most closely with him. He instructed his own son to lie about his meeting with Veselnitskaya. It’s very hard to ascertain the truth when the central figure is a severely unstable, irrational personality. And sometimes, in such cases, the truth doesn’t make sense.

  13. orionATL says:

    [email protected]:06

    jumping in is never a problem; it’s what we do here in the course of a discussion :))

    in my view, jthere is only one question of consequence, two actually:

    1 – did the trump campaign receive help from the russians? and

    2 – did they co-operate /promise compensation, in the form of sanctions recusal, with russians in order to get that help?

    what fusion/steele did or did not do is irrelevant at this point given the many data points linking trumpses to russians, and their hiding it by lying, after trump became the obvious republican nominee.

    at this point i see no reason why mueller would care about the fusion/steele connection. why would he care, given all else he has to work with?

    as for fusion’s morals, they are a corporation – you might as well ask about dupont’s or southern company’s or vw’s morals (not to mention the chinese corp that shipped stinking drywall to u. s.).

    finally, the fbi has had the steele dossier for many months now. when they lodge a complaint of fraud or other misconduct against orbis, i’ll sit up and pay attention.

  14. orionATL says:

    this article provides an illustration of the point i want to make that the investigation of the russian intervention in american voting is taking place at a level much higher than the who/what/when/where of a document called “the steele dossier” or of a company named fusion gps. that investigation is or should be happening at a systems level of investigation.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/06/10/i-was-an-fbi-agent-trumps-lack-of-concern-about-russian-hacking-shocks-me/

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