Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Staring into the abyss

The New Yorker’s Ian Parker wrote an exceptional profile of Glenn Greenwald for the September 3 issue. The full title of the profile is “The Bane of Their Resistance: a leftist journalist’s bruising crusade against establishment Democrats—and their Russia obsession.” Greenwald is a smart guy who doesn’t buy into the conspiracy theories of Russian election interference and collusion between the spies and the Trump campaign. For a long time, he seemed to reject the idea that Russia had done anything to the 2016 election; in this profile, it sometimes appears he thinks Russia didn’t do anything wrong.

“We have, all the time, different levels of evidentiary certainty based on the context, based on the role that we’re playing,” Greenwald said. To allege Russian interference in 2016 was to levy a charge against “a longtime adversary of the United States, one that is still in possession of thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at American cities.” He continued, “Before we all accuse that country of having done something so grave as have its leader order the hacking of these e-mails in order to interfere in an election, I think the evidence we demand ought to be pretty high.”

Was the charge “grave”? He had just called it the stuff of everyday international relations. “I personally don’t think it’s grave,” he said. “But there are millions of Americans who believe the election of Trump is this grave threat. So if you convince them that what has endangered them is Putin—you hear Democrats comparing this to 9/11 or Pearl Harbor—that’s really dangerous rhetoric. I don’t think it’s particularly grave at all, even if it’s true. I think it’s a very pedestrian event.” The risk, then—one also identified by President Trump—was that unfounded American hysteria could set off a nuclear war. Put another way: the choice is between Greenwald and the end of the world.

He later said, “If there was evidence inside the U.S. government that genuinely proved collusion—an intercepted call, an e-mail—it would have been leaked by now.” (He seemed to be disregarding the discipline displayed by Mueller’s investigation.) He added that, even if Putin himself had ordered the hacking, “and worked with WikiLeaks and Michael Cohen and Jared Kushner to distribute the e-mails,” then this was still just “standard shit.”

Now, I really do understand the disdain for the newfound liberal pastime of finding Russian machinations at the center of everything. The market for red yarn has never been better on this side of the political spectrum. And Greenwald quite correctly spends a bit of this profile pointing out how unhinged those theories can get.

But that section quoted above is just an incomprehensible argument! ‘The specter of Russian election interference or Trump campaign collusion is such a grave accusation that we need lots of evidence. However, even in the worst case scenario, The Russia Stuff is still just “standard shit.” Further, there can’t be any real evidence to support the grave accusation, because if there was lots of evidence we’d have seen it already. Therefore, we can safely assume the grave accusations are simply not true.

Maybe for Greenwald the gravest stuff is the unhinged theories like “The Marshall of the Supreme Court has put Melania into witness protection because Russian special forces are going to Die Hard all the various Trump Towers to steal the deed to Mar-a-Lago and also Putin personally filmed the pee tape.” But from where I’m sitting, the standard shit looks like an unprecedented international conspiracy to defraud the United States. (The kind in 18 U.S.C. § 371, not the red yarn kind.) The evidence is in the form of two-plus years of dissembling and contradictory cover stories from a range of campaign and administration staffers, not least the President himself.