Discover more from Letters from an American
February 16, 2022
Today, the Washington Post ran a story by Claire Parker explaining that most Canadian truckers oppose the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests. Almost all Canadian truckers are vaccinated and resent the protesters, whose shutdown of international borders has “had a very significant negative impact upon our professional driving community,” according to Stephen Laskowski, the president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
Prominent leaders of the convoys, including conspiracy theorist James Bauder, are not truckers themselves. Instead, right-wing agitators appear to be the ones behind the Trump and Confederate flags at the protests. More than 55% of the donations to the Christian fundraising website GiveSendGo for the protesters came from the United States.
Truckers’ organizations say the protests undermine the real concerns of truck drivers—wage theft, bad roads, and a lack of bathrooms—and worry that the convoys will hurt the public image of truckers.
Parker’s Washington Post story showing the Freedom Convoys as the expression of a radical fringe was an important reality check to the breathless stories from the American right hailing the Freedom Convoys as a popular movement.
The story that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton allegedly spied on then-candidate Trump’s campaign in 2016 illustrates the importance of the sort of reality-based corrective the Washington Post published about the Canadian truckers.
The story at the root of the right’s accusations against Clinton is actually fascinating. After Russians hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee in 2015 and 2016, cybersecurity experts started to look to see what else hackers might have hit. In July 2016, four of them noticed that Russia’s Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank appeared to be pinging a server registered to Trump Tower. To a lesser extent, it communicated with Spectrum Health in Michigan, an organization associated with the DeVos family. The servers were configured in such a way that they appeared to be shutting out other communications.
One of the security experts took the story to lawyer Michael Sussman, who took it to the general counsel at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in September 2016, alerting him that cybersecurity folks thought there might be secret communications between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. Sussman worked for the same law firm that represented the Clinton presidential campaign.
In May 2019, Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, appointed John Durham, former U.S. attorney for Connecticut, as special counsel to investigate the origins of the FBI’s investigation into the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In September 2021, Durham indicted Sussman for lying to the FBI by saying he was not working for a client when he alerted them to the issue. Sussman denies he said he did not have a client, and identified himself as working for the cybersecurity expert. While Durham’s witness has contradicted himself, emails support Sussman’s account. For his part, Sussman responded by denying the charges and saying that Durham’s 27-page indictment contained “prejudicial—and false—allegations that are irrelevant to his Motion and to the charged offense, and are plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool.”
In his indictment, Durham said the cybersecurity experts did not believe their own suggestion of connections between Alfa Bank and Trump Tower and were trying to hurt candidate Trump. They responded by accusing Durham of editing their emails misleadingly and stood behind their earlier conclusions.
The current furor is over a related issue. On Friday, in a court filing in the case against Sussman, Durham alleged that one of the cybersecurity experts, who was working for the White House as part of a cybersecurity contract, “exploited” his access there to find “derogatory information” about Trump. This charge stems from the fact that the researchers found odd data suggesting that a Russian-made smartphone, a YotaPhone, had communicated with the same networks—this we already knew—and that one of them told that information to the CIA in February 2017, about 20 days into the Trump administration. Durham did not indicate when he thought the experts had uncovered the issue—the timing suggests it was in 2016, before Trump took office—and the researcher’s lawyer has pointed out that the person had been hired to identify security breaches and threats.
The story is confusing, but it seems to show security experts who found anomalies and took them to the appropriate authorities (none of them has been charged with anything). The FBI dismissed the server issue, and it is not clear whether the phone issue was ever investigated. The launch of the FBI’s investigation of the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia had nothing to do with any of this, anyway. The investigation, called Crossfire Hurricane, began in July 2016 after George Papadopoulos, a member of the Trump campaign, told an informant that the campaign had dirt on Hillary Clinton. An investigation by the inspector general of the Justice Department concluded that the FBI investigation was not politically motivated.
The current story appears to be a nothing burger, and yet, the former president, right-wing media, and Trump loyalists are flooding the news with accusations that the Clinton campaign paid operatives to “infiltrate” servers at Trump Tower and the White House to create the Russia scandal. They are calling for multiple indictments.
Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) told the Fox News Channel on Sunday: “They were spying on the sitting president of the United States…. And it goes right to the Clinton campaign.” The former president claimed that “Robert” Durham—a name switch that might reflect his intense focus on Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was in charge of the Russia investigation—had provided “indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia.… In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death.”
The right is complaining bitterly that the mainstream media has covered this story only briefly, insisting the lack of wall-to-wall coverage proves the media is biased against the right. But the exaggeration of this story seems a transparent attempt to revisit the 2016 attacks on Clinton in order to distract both from the revelations of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol and from the eye-popping news that Trump’s accountants have said the last ten years of his financial statements cannot be relied upon.
Controlling the narrative has always been a key factor in the right’s ability to turn out voters. But that ability just might be slipping.
Today, former judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit J. Michael Luttig, a Republican, said: “For the past six years, I have watched and listened in disgust that not one single leader of ours with the moral authority, the courage, and the will to stand up and say: ‘No, this is not who we are, this is not what America is, and it’s not what we want to be,’ has done so.”
Also today, a report by the Interior Department’s Inspector General Mark Greenblatt, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump, offered a window into how one Trump loyalist looked at our government as a way to further his own interests. The report concluded that Trump’s secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, broke federal ethics rules, lying to officials that he had “purely social” contact with developers in Whitefish, Montana, when in fact he communicated with the developers 64 times to talk about the project, including a parking lot on his own land and his interest in having a brewery on the property.
Zinke is now running for Congress. His campaign called the investigation a “Biden Administration led report” (the investigation began in 2018, under Trump) that “published false information, and was shared with the press as a political hit job.”
Spreading false stories depends on making sure the truth is inaccessible. Today Biden rejected Trump’s attempt to hide the White House visitor logs for January 6, 2021, from the January 6th committee on the grounds of executive privilege. Biden said that keeping them hidden “is not in the best interest of the United States.” Unless a court steps in, the National Archives and Records Administration will deliver them to the committee on March 3.