Above Photo: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump (2019-06-28). Kremlin.ru / Wikimedia Commons.
There are certain things I do not quite get since Special Counsel John Durham’s report on the epically corrupt conduct of Donald Trump’s enemies during the 2016 election campaigns went to Congress last week. Many things, actually. For all the ground Durham covers in his 306–page report, I don’t get why he left a lot of things undone and unexamined, a lot of names unnamed and a lot of conclusions unconcluded after a four-year investigation into the very unfunny fiasco known as Russiagate.
And then there are a few things I do get. Chief among these is that, with the already-evident burying of the Durham Report, we now witness the obliteration of a highly significant passage in our national history. To be deprived in this way of our past—of the facts of our time—is a kind of condemnation. This comes with consequences. I get these things. What our institutions of government and our corporate media perpetrate as we speak, this abuse of those alive now, of those who will follow us, altogether of the history that belongs to us, imposes a great responsibility upon us. This last is something I hope we all get.
The Durham Report is at bottom a confirmation more than a revelation, as various commentators have noted. Those among us willing to look squarely at events and evidence without fear or favor in the true meaning of this phrase understood years ago that the Democratic Party and the Federal Bureau of Investigation—among others, I have to add—conspired to concoct the Russiagate ruse in the service of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. The Durham Report gives us a lot of detail as to just how this was done. We are now able to follow the bouncing ball once Clinton, personally so far as I understand it, got it rolling by way of what Durham calls the Clinton Intelligence Plan.
This detail is important. Susan Schmidt, an experienced journalist with a good record to her credit, runs it down in a piece for Racket News that ScheerPost republished a day after Attorney–General Merrick Garland sent the Durham Report to Congress. Glenn Greenwald produced an excellent segment on the report in his System Update program. Matt Taibbi and Walter Kirn, the novelist and essayist, considered Durham, Russiagate, and the latter’s fate in their America This Week podcast. Chris Hedges weighed in Monday.
I appreciate the Durham Report for the chronology of events it indicates. This is now easier to follow than it has been previously. In simple terms, Clinton authorized an operation to frame Trump within days of the leak of emails from Democratic Party servers in July 2016. The FBI’s leadership acted quickly to set this operation in motion. It first considered using the offhand remarks of George Papadopoulos, a minor Trump campaign volunteer, to obtain surveillance warrants against various of Trump’s advisers. When that proved too flimsy, the agency’s top officials turned to the Steele Dossier. The agency knew it was junk, but they punched it up sufficiently to get the warrants needed to proceed against Trump and his people.
This was Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s anti–Trump op at the heart of the Russiagate hoax.
“The truth is, we had almost all of the information a long time ago. What we didn’t have was the certification of the information by a government authority, by a legal authority,” Walter Kirn remarks in America This Week. “I think Durham did a job of showing reach to the highest levels of the government. Apparently everyone was briefed on the reality of this thing early on, very early on. All the highest authorities knew it was bullshit.”
Perfectly fair comment, an astute summation. Then Kirn continues in a very curious way:
In a way, I guess it became necessary that the system vindicates itself by finding that which could not be found and asserting that which could not be proved, to the point that the moment where it mattered passed away. President Trump’s no longer president. All of the harms that were done by this thing have been done. They changed our history, they changed our media. They changed our sense of information and why it’s important.
Kirn is right to suggest that “the system” appears to figure that a report such as Durham’s can now be released because it is all water under the bridge—a little in the way the U.S. will acknowledge one or another of its coup operations long after the facts have ceased to matter. Similarly, it looks as if Garland found this an opportune moment to send the Durham Report to Capitol Hill, effectively to remove the entire Russiagate affair from the common American consciousness. With a presidential election 18 months away, Biden’s attorney-general must dispose of Russiagate and Durham’s probe as hastily and as best he can.
But I am not with Kirn when he asserts all the harm has been done. No, it has not. Russiagate changed history all right. And the destruction of this history is to my mind the greatest harm of all. This is the very oddest thing about the Durham Report: It purports to rip off the veil shielding the plot against Donald Trump from view, but it shapes up after a few days’ consideration as part of the effort to bury the Russiagate hoax the way the Warren Commission buried the facts of the Kennedy assassination for many years.
It is this interment of so key a passage in American history we will live with for the rest of our lives, this we stand to pass on to generations to come. Deeper into the Republic of Pretend we will go—losing our capacity to understand events, to see straight, to know with confidence who we are. The alternative is vigilance, vigilant protection of the truth of the Russiagate years the way a few courageous souls kept the truth of the Cold War years alive so that we, now, can understand America’s responsibility for starting, prosecuting, and prolonging it.
It is fine that we know more now of the who-did-what-when-and-why of the Russiagate story. But let us remind ourselves of something Durham chose for whatever reason not to note. Russiagate was a criminal enterprise with many perpetrators and accomplices guilty of what would stand in a court of law as felonies. They corrupted the political process, tampered with an election and unlawfully undermined the Executive Branch. Abuses of office and public institutions were rampant during the Russiagate years—fatally, I would say, in the case of the FBI.
We are left with various bitter realities. Our already troubled republic has sustained permanent damage at the hands of people pretending to protect it. We can no longer trust the nation’s dominant political party or those institutions charged with upholding the Constitution and the legal processes that derive from it.
Let’s go larger. Many of those elected to govern this country display no respect for it. I do not see there is any longer any denying that a Deep State—a term that gained currency during the Russiagate years, not coincidentally—exercises a wholly unlawful degree of power over the American polity. “Apple pie authoritarianism” can no longer be taken as a distant, unlikely danger or the cry of Cassandras. It is our reality.
I have been looking, since the Durham Report was made public, for historical comparisons to bring home the magnitude of what the report puts on paper, if incompletely. Nixon and Watergate? Not even close. Watergate was at bottom one man’s scandal; it had nothing to do with systemic decadence and institutional rot from within. The theft of the Gore–Bush election in 2000 is a worthier comparison. While it got a lot less press than Watergate, it put Americans on notice that their judiciary, supreme among our mediating institutions, was corroded at the very highest level.
But for the breadth and depth of the decay, it seems to me, Russiagate has no match in American history going back who knows how long. It leaves us with the bitter realities just mentioned.
I do not think Russiagate’s perpetrators, criminal as they were and remain, ever intended the anti–Trump operation to grow to the magnitude it did. No, when the Clinton Intelligence Plan and Crossfire Hurricane were set in motion they were intended to last only a few months. Clinton would win in November, and what may be the greatest subversion op in our history would take its place among the countless other cases of our republic’s political rambunctiousness, and so fade away.
A year after the July 2016 leak of the Democrats’ mail, Trump eight months in office, I wrote a column under the headline “Too Big to Fail.” That was the reality by then: The extravagant damage already done to America’s public institutions, the reckless overinvestment in Russiagate by all the liars on Capitol Hill, in the law-enforcement agencies, in the intelligence apparatus, in the Obama White House, and, let us not forget, in the media meant that the truth of the hoax could never come out. These people had put the stability of the republic at risk. What would be the dénouement, then? Out of what side door would all the Russiagaters weasel?
Post–Durham, too big to fail is again the reality. And the way out for all those caught in their own web is now clear. Russiagate, the whole nine of it, is to be buried.
This is too big a lump to be hidden under the carpet, too significant a chapter in American history to be written out of the national narrative. The mind goes back 60 years—60 years, can you believe it?—to the Kennedy assassination. How long did it take, due to the perspicacity of Oliver Stone, the filmmaker (JFK, 1991; JFK Revisited, 2021), David Talbot, the author (The Devil’s Chessboard, 2015), and a few honorable others to establish the CIA’s culpability beyond a reasonable doubt? And how much longer before the truth of Nov. 22, 1963, is disinterred and given its place in our history?
A brief digression as an aid to our understanding of our moment.
Many years ago I spent some weeks in Guatemala researching an essay. This was a few years after the government and the nation’s guerrilla movement signed accords ending 36 years of civil war, and a couple of years after the Recovery of Historical Memory Project, led by Bishop Juan Gerardi, published four volumes documenting those decades of violence under the title Guatemala: Nunca Más.
The thought implicit in this endeavor was as compelling as Bishop Gerardi’s courage and determination: Record the past, bring it to the surface, enable people to think and talk about it, and the past need not be repeated. The dreadful irony here is that Gerardi was assassinated just as the Recovery Project’s work went into print. But “Never Again” still stands as a monument to his wisdom.
The Maya were always the majority in Guatemala, and at the turn of the century accounted for 70 percent of the population. Yet they had been more or less erased from the national narrative for half a millennium. They had not been permitted to participate in the historical phenomenon known as “Guatemala.” Instead of history they had memory—that is, an unofficial, handed-down past. If memory is all one has, the act of remembering becomes all-important—a matter of self-preservation. I named this condition “memory without history.”
To value history, Nietzsche told us in very different circumstances, is “to understand the meaning of the phrase ‘it was.’” But the health of an individual, a people, or of a culture he also said, depended on forgetting, too: It is only when we can forget that we escape the bonds of the past and dare to begin again, to imagine and create, “to perceive as we have never perceived before.” Having the certainty of a written history is what makes possible this desirable kind of forgetting. People can live without memory, the great German reminds us. “But it is altogether impossible to live at all without forgetting.” If you have ever seen a people in the condition of memory without history, you will have no trouble with Nietzsche’s thought. There is a pervasive sadness about them, an absence of vitality, an inwardness, a recessive inability to connect with others.
History and memory, to crunch this down, are in this way adversaries. People without a history are condemned to remember and remember and remember—memory as burden. It is only when people are confident their story is inscribed in history that they can begin to leave behind their memories, lifting a great weight from their shoulders and proceeding with a light, life-embracing step.
Memory without history often lives right next door to its opposite, “history without memory.” The human story is full of these—official histories gutted of all manner of facts, occurrences, and realities inconvenient to those who usurp the right to write history. Histories without memory are the doorways to that national psychosis I mentioned in a previous column. Guatemala’s official histories were of this kind when I was there. There was a project to correct this, to write the Maya into the history texts, but I have no idea how far it has gotten, politically fraught as the undertaking was.
The headline on that long-ago essay was, “History without memory: Who owns Guatemala’s past?” This is our American question, too, it seems to me: Who owns our history? We can imagine posing it on all sorts of occasions. Who owns the Cold War’s history? The Vietnam War’s? The history of the Kennedy administration? Publication of the Durham Report raises this question again. Who is going to own the history of Russiagate, an interim as consequential as these others? Will it be the corrupt controllers of the mainstream narrative, who include the hoax’s perpetrators, or we to whom the history of that dark time rightfully belongs?
I do not want to spend the rest of my days carrying Russiagate around in my head, to put this point another way. I want it written into the record as it was. I wrote a lot about the doings of the corrupt during those years, along with many others, and my altogether conscious intent was to get down what happened so I could begin to forget it. I have, since those days in Guatemala, identified the condition of memory without history (and its opposite) with crude, despotic regimes and forlorn peoples, but … but here we are, ushered into the mirror conditions of memory without history and history without memory unless we choose the path of resistance.
John Durham’s intent when he submitted his report to Attorney General Garland seems to me very ambiguous. He got some things down in a legal document, but he left so much out: He never subpoenaed Hillary Clinton, he does not appear to have looked into the Obama White House’s collusions, or corporate media’s very consequential collusions, and so on through a list of apparent omissions. He stopped well short of alleging criminal wrongdoing, even in patently evident cases such as Clinton’s. He charges the FBI not with “political bias,” a grave matter that would require legal action and institutional discipline, but with “confirmation bias,” a standard slap-on-the-wrist gambit that will require precisely nothing of anybody.
I have to ask: Was Durham, whose integrity and disinterest have been much-praised in the course of his career, compromised during his investigation? Has he been “got to,” shown where the Deep State plants the fence posts and advised not to operate beyond them? Was he urged to conclude—this reminds me of Al Gore’s moment in 2000—that the truth, the whole, and nothing but of Russiagate would threaten the stability of our republic (as I think it would) and so avoided telling it? Did he produce what the spooks call a “limited hangout” because what is probably the greatest political hoax in our history is simply too big to fail?
The consequences of the Durham Report’s omissions are already evident. The New York Times can describe it as “a whimper” bearing no significance. The Times and the major dailies that routinely ape it continue to report allegations of malfeasance at the FBI as mere “conspiracy theory.” You see what is going on here, I trust. Allow the Deep State and its appendages to bury our history in this manner and we will lose our ability to see anything clearly—you name it: the war in Ukraine, Joe Biden’s senility, the conjured nonsense of “domestic extremism,’ and in the end even ourselves, who we are, and what kind of nation we live in.
Read the list, partial, of those publications upon which I have relied for coverage this past week. That is all I have to say about The New York Times and all the others. The publications I have looked to are all independent. It is to these media we must turn to keep the record of these past years from being interred so that it finds its proper place in our history, so that we have a fighting chance to learn from the past and avoid repeating it.