US politics in uncharted waters as FBI announces probe into Russian activities

James ComeyMonday’s official announcement that an investigation is underway into alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 United States presidential election was an important moment in American political history. It exposed the chaotic state of American politics and added yet another layer of complexity in an already intricate affair, from which the country’s institutions will find it difficult to recover for years to come. This is regardless of the outcome of the investigation, which is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Even if it fails to produce a ‘smoking gun’, the very fact that the country’s chief counterintelligence agency is examining the possibility that a US president was elected with help from Russia, is an astonishing development without parallel in modern American history.

It is important to recognize that the FBI would never have initiated such a controversial and politically charged investigation without having concrete proof of Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election. No agency of the US federal government would choose to dedicate enormous resources and personnel, and risk the political fallout that such a probe inevitably entails, without first having amassed indisputable evidence that necessitates it. Moreover, the FBI is not acting alone; its investigation almost certainly encompasses and incorporates similar probes carried out by other American security agencies, and possibly by agencies in allied countries, including the United Kingdom. It follows that the FBI investigation will undoubtedly confirm the existence of a systematic Russian intelligence operation that was aimed at influencing the outcome of last year’s American election.

As the present author has previously stated, it would be “extremely unusual and highly uncharacteristic of Russian spy agencies if they did not launch at least a rudimentary covert campaign to target the 2016 US presidential election […]. Indeed, the opposite would have been strange”. The central question, of course, is: what types of activities were part of the Kremlin’s covert campaign? Did it mostly involve the methodical production and dissemination of so-called ‘fake news’? Did it involve substantial funding of individual candidates or political parties? Or were there perhaps instances of extortion and blackmail of targeted individuals? These questions must be answered in full, and their inherent complexity explains fully why the FBI Director James Comey would not discuss details of the investigation on Monday.

Crucially, the FBI probe will have to answer conclusively the question of whether members of the administration of US President Donald Trump, or indeed the president himself, were implicated in the Kremlin’s actions. Did the president and his senior campaign team know that the Kremlin was —allegedly—assisting their efforts? If so, how did they know? And if not, did they deliberately ignore concrete warnings pointing to the contrary?

Every American, regardless of political persuasion, who genuinely cares about his or her nation’s political stability, hopes that the FBI probe finds no collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. However, there is an important sense in which, no matter the outcome of the investigation, serious damage has already been done. The reputation of American political institutions as a whole has been severely shaken, and mistrust between American civil society and its political institutions continues to rise exponentially. Meanwhile, it is safe to say that it will take months for the FBI’s probe to conclude. By then, the current chaotic state of American politics could be the a new permanently reality in Washington, a city that has witnessed much tumult in its history, though perhaps never as perplexing as the current crisis.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 March 2017 | Permalink

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2 Responses to US politics in uncharted waters as FBI announces probe into Russian activities

  1. You are absolutely right that this is sadly a momentous historical event in the history of the USA. Indeed, it doesn’t just affect the USA. It is a world changing event. The implications are incalculable at present, but at best, in all probability Trump will become a lame duck President. Onlookers from outside the USA are staggered by all of this including why the FBI failed to say in July 2016 that this investigation had started then bearing in mind the FBI announced its investigation into Hillary Clinton during the election. No doubt the FBI have very good reasons for all that but from a non-partisan perspective it looks very odd in hindsight.

    Although this investigation may be mainly focused on “interference” with the USA’s democratic process it will still have to cover Trump’s business dealings in Russia and ex Soviet bloc countries like Kazakhstan as well as more generically the goings on of some of Trump’s “business mates” (eg Robert Mercer) and associates (eg Alfa Bank in Moscow and Almaty).

    However, the FBI are not the only ones investigating Trump and his not so merry men and women. There are unquestionably many other serious ongoing investigations all over the world for all sorts of reasons: for example, what will his enemies release to Wikileaks one might ask? Nevertheless, some of these investigations are “independent” and will be more focused on Trump himself and his corporate activities (eg http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/new-york-state-hires-top-corruption-prosecutor-to-investigate-donald-trump-eric-schneiderman-howard-a7639631.html or more specifically http://fairesansdire.org/Trump-Obama-GCHQ-and-the-Kazakh-Connection).

    Which one will derail him is anyone’s guess but the odds at most global bookmakers of Trump’s impeachment are now circa 50/50. The $64 question is when will Putin decide to release what information he has access to (eg from hacking other ongoing investigations) which can be proven to be federal crimes under US law.

  2. Pete says:

    At a minimum Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election might consist of spoken and/or written information to US journalists exposing Hillary Clinton’s alleged corruption (eg. her home server which included classified material).

    Russian covertness might be assessed on such criteria as:

    – the sources and methods Russians (or their representatives) used to gain the information (more covert would be hacking Hillary’s records)

    – what percentage of the Russian information was classified vs mere open source analysis, and

    – the channel(s) Russia used to pass the records to journalists (from Russian diplomats? Russian press agencies? most covert would be the Russian FSB [1] or SVR [2] officers acting undercover)

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Security_Service
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_Intelligence_Service_(Russia)

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