September 22, 2021, 13:36

Trump and conservative media have their own, quite different version of the Russia scandal

Trump and conservative media have their own, quite different version of the Russia scandal

On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump sent a series of tweets about the Russia scandal, attempting to put forth a counternarrative in which Democrats and the FBI are the real villains.

With special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation moving forward and new revelations about Russian propaganda efforts during the 2016 election, the Trump-Russia scandal clearly isn’t going away anytime soon, and ignoring it no longer seems like a viable political strategy.

So many conservative media figures and GOP politicians have increasingly tried to publicize other Russia-related matters that they say implicate Trump’s political enemies — whether the Obama administration, the Clintons, Mueller, fired FBI Director James Comey, or even the FBI as a whole — in misconduct of some kind.

Two of these stories — questions about an Obama-era uranium deal, and questions about the salacious “dossier” on Trump — have been bubbling in conservative media for some time, and have gotten particular attention this week. So it was no surprise that the president himself tried to push them on Twitter Thursday:

The political reason Trump is embracing both of these stories is clear enough: He’s trying to cast Russia-related dirt on both Democrats and the FBI (which he views as part of a “deep state” unfairly persecuting him), to try to discredit the investigation as a whole, and to change the subject from the question of whether any of his associates colluded with the Russian government during the campaign.

And indeed, conservative media figures are arguing that these stories make Democrats and the FBI look at the very least hypocritical on Russia, and at worst like Russian patsies themselves.

The stories Trump is using to try to muddy the waters on Russia

Much as occurred earlier this year with the “unmasking” controversy, the Trump administration, leading Republicans, and conservative reporters and media outlets are trying to publicize — some would say drum up — Russia-related controversies that make Democrats or the FBI look bad.

So as much of the mainstream media continues to drill into the question of whether there was any collusion between Trump’s team and Russia during the election, much of the conservative media is spending a great deal of time on these other Russia-related stories.

The two that Trump tweeted about Thursday morning are:

  • The uranium company deal: This is essentially about whether the Obama administration had approved a 2010 deal in which Russia’s atomic energy agency bought a Canadian company with extensive uranium holdings, including in the United States. The issue was discussed during the campaign, but a report by John Solomon and Alison Spann of the Hill this week questions why the Obama-era FBI and Justice Department didn’t more aggressively pursue or publicize an investigation into misconduct from the Russian nuclear industry at the time. There are also questions about donations to the Clinton Foundation made by people involved with the deal, though no one has demonstrated that Hillary Clinton advocated for it in any sort of unusual way.
  • The Steele dossier: This is the infamous, salacious dossier put together by a former British spy that claimed extensive collusion between Russian officials and top Trump associates. It was written by former British spy Christopher Steele at the behest of the firm Fusion GPS. Republicans have questioned whether the dossier contained disinformation peddled by Russians and asked who paid Fusion to produce the dossier in the first place. There have also been questions about whether the FBI at some point last year paid Steele for the dossier.

Both of these matters have been hot topics on Fox News, and indeed, Trump appeared to be watching Fox & Friends when he tweeted about the uranium story Thursday morning.

The Senate Judiciary Committee under Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has long been investigating the Steele dossier matter, and is now looking into the Russian nuclear matter too. And again, it’s entirely possible that there was some wrongdoing on either front.

Still, the question of why Trump is so enthusiastic about these recent stories is hardly a mystery. The bigger picture is that he’s hoping to change the subject from questions about what he and his associates may have done, and to muddy the waters on the Russia issue by casting aspersions on his biggest critics.


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