Tuesday, February 14, 2017

No, centrists did not have credible suspicions about Flynn

As credible evidence of untoward dealings between the Kremlin and White House national security adviser Michael Flynn continue to emerge, centrist Clinton supporters are predictably running a victory lap:

One minor detail with the article Krugman links to, however: it doesn't actually mention Flynn. Much less his contact with the Russian government, the potential for blackmail, and his lies to Trump about all of this. Just read it - it's a short post. There is absolutely nothing there that indicates any specific foresight about this scandal. Instead, Krugman states three grounds for concern:
1. "indications that Mr. Trump would, in office, actually follow a pro-Putin foreign policy"
2. "Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump's campaign manager, has worked for...a Putin ally"
3. "Trump...has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian businesses"
That's it! And all three of these are easily addressed. The first point, Masha Gessen observed, was entirely redundant:
Trump’s foreign policy statements are perfectly consistent with his character and thinking...the idea that Putin is somehow making or even encouraging him to say these things is a work-around for the inability to imagine that the Republican Party’s nominee is saying them of his own accord.
As for the second point, it neither implies anything about Flynn nor even demonstrates evidence of significant foresight. News about Manafort's Russia ties had broken just that week, and within a month he resigned; as far as I can tell there was never any denial that this was a significant scandal. But neither did that scandal give us any information about Flynn.

Nor, of course, does Krugman's third point. Trump's substantial conflicts of interest around the world were always well known, but this of course does not particularly distinguish him from Clinton, and again, it does not tell us anything about Flynn. By the way, here's all we actually knew about Flynn last summer:
Flynn has advocated for closer ties to Russia, and questions have been raised about his participation as a guest on RT, also known as Russia Today, the Kremlin-funded English-language news outlet. Last year, he was pictured at gala feting RT, seated at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This is why Krugman, in an article that supposedly demonstrates how "obvious...this scandal" already was, could only offer the vague horoscopic conclusion of "something very strange and disturbing going on here". And that's why those of us not engaged in frantic wishful thinking were willing to suspend judgement: as I wrote at the time,
As a matter of simple journalism and scholarship, none of the people peddling these attacks are doing the absic work of making their case...They don't rely on the minimal standards of substantiation and argumentation that you would expect of claims as extraordinary as "Donald Trump is [a] Russian agent"...
Of course, it was (and remains) entirely possible that Trump is compromised; there is no reason to put this past him or Putin. But the default assumption here is not conspiracy, and in the absence of hard evidence it has always made sense to be skeptical of these kinds of claims.