Not Your Typical Mueller Report Opinion Piece

Let’s start with the obvious: Like all the other opinion pieces said, we’re dealing with a corrupt mob boss, a culture of lying and obfuscation, a paranoid president who was saved from himself by aides who, selfishly or selflessly, stopped short of doing his bidding. We’re dealing with an administration of enthusiastic recipients of information and illegalities from a foreign power. And, Mueller explicitly places the ball in the court of Congress: I won’t indict, but you can impeach, and you can certainly indict once he’s out of office (the report twice reminds us, explicitly, that Trump’s supposed immunity while in office–which, by the way, is a topic hotly debated by constitutional scholars–ends when he is no longer president.)

All of these things are true.

It takes a bit of time for the emotional dust from reading the report to settle (I spent about nine hours, give or take, on providing summaries of Volume 1 and Volume 2 yesterday.) Some of what I read was news to me, such as the phonemail Trump received while en route to the airport with Rick Gates

17. Page 54: It seems like Trump and Gates were going to the airport, Trump got a call and then told Gates that more emails were forthcoming.

— Hadar Aviram (@aviramh) April 18, 2019

and the direct hacking of the election systems in an unnamed Florida county)

15. The GRU also directly intervened in the election by targeting election administrators and hacking computer systems, specifically in Illinois and Florida. B/c of redactions, unclear from this version which of these interventions were successful.

— Hadar Aviram (@aviramh) April 18, 2019

I was also somewhat surprised by Assange’s partisanship. I had been under the impression that he was a “chaotic neutral”, who was just about nonpartisan free access to everything, but in fact he acted because he was interested in a GOP election win.

12. WikiLeaks were not neutral parties, and their collaboration was fostered by partisanship. Assange explicitly said to WikiLeaks employees that “it would be better for the GOP to win.”

— Hadar Aviram (@aviramh) April 18, 2019

But I have to say, the moment I will most remember from this tweeting enterprise is the brainwave I had when I read about Paul Manafort’s dealings with Kilimnik and, through Kilimnik, with Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president. This came into clearer focus when I read about Petr Aven, and especially about Kyrill Dmitriev, and their efforts to insinuate themselves into the Trump transition team.

The whole thing reminded me, in a nauseating way, of a post I wrote here a while ago, about one of my favorite TV shows as a child: Mission: Impossible. Gentle reader, if you’re a person of a certain age, you probably remember the show not as a flashy Tom Cruise movie, but as a series of episodes involving sophisticated U.S. interventions abroad. At the time, I wrote that the show–

evoke[d] a feeling of nostalgia for a past that never was; a past in which good and evil are clearly delineated in the opening sequence, and in which our secret service works for the undisputed good while we all sleep soundly in our beds. A past in which power is never abused, but tempered with talent and an old-fashioned gentlemanly code. A past in which the United States is a benevolent patriarch, deftly and subtly governing its childlike counterparts. A past in which women and people of color play cameo roles in the world of secret service, and women are praised and utilized for their sexual appeal without complain or critique. 

The problem is that this past never existed. In the late sixties, when this show aired on American television, the US was already angling toward a questionable and destructive elective war in Vietnam, and was already involved in fixing (not unfixing!) the elections in various foreign countries, not to mention the ones it was yet to fix. Involvement in attempted and successful assassinations of foreign politicians and dignitaries has been, since then, clearly documented. And let’s not even start discussing foreign military interventions. 

How comforting it was to live in the Mission: Impossible world, in which these developments could be either disbelieved or explained away as benevolent and necessary. Which just makes the courage of people like Daniel Ellsberg, who actually saw what was what and brought it into the realm of public consciousness, all the more impressive.

How the tables have turned! Mueller’s investigation reveals a sophisticated, ruthless Russian machinery, consisting of both the GRU and private corporations, that is able to manipulate American social and technological vulnerabilities to an astounding degree. The reason I felt comfortable writing in my tweet thread that Russia “procured” and not just “sought to procure” is because, when you put together Mueller’s findings about the direct interference in Florida and the calculations done by Nate Silver et al. a clear picture of successful intervention emerges. The surges and declines in public support for Trump and Clinton map neatly onto the leaked emails, and the leaked emails were obtained via the well-oiled Russian machine.

But what is most shocking about this is that all of this efficiency and technological acumen was put to work not in the service of politics. Or, I should say–not ultimately in the service of politics. And this is what I realized: Gaming the U.S. election was perhaps a step toward solidifying a peace agreement that guarantees Russian control of the Ukraine, but even that’s not the endgame.

Ask yourself: What are the oligarchs in this for? Why so much public-private cooperation? Why are Russian billionaires in bed with American businessmen/politicians?

Because the political aspects of this, friend, are all a sideshow. The things you and I care about–vanishing civil rights, children in cages, starving Central American nations, planetary destruction–all of this is a sideshow. Manafort, with his deep connections in Russia and the Ukraine, is the key to understanding all of this. He is not a stepping stool toward Trump. He, and Kilimnik, and Yanukovych, and Aven, and Dmitriev, they are the lynchpin of the whole thing. This is all about making money. Obscene amounts of money that you and I cannot even imagine. The U.S. election, which has enormous importance for you and me, is just a means to an end. The real game is not played in D.C., no matter how great or influential Trump thinks he is. The real game is played in Moscow, and probably not even by Putin, but by the oligarchs.

And this is the big shocker. That you and I might devote our lives to public policy, to incarceration and criminalization and confinement conditions and all sorts of things like that, which are the whole world to the people caught in the clutches of the system, but ultimately, they, you, and I, are merely playthings in the lives of the obscenely rich. Just pawns to be moved along in order to make money. Their economic hold on the world is so vast that winning the U.S. election is just a means to an end for them.

And this makes me profoundly sad, and angry, and fearful for our future.