This may seem rich coming from someone who just spilled 22,000 words on the topic of Donald Trump’s Russian connections, but as a self-professed sober acolyte of #Russiagate, I feel that it is my duty to warn you of some well-intentioned, but ultimately damaging purveyors of this theory. I share these people’s concern that Donald Trump and the Kremlin have an all-too cozy relationship, but where I cut myself off from these much more certain journalists and citizen journalists are the wild theories as to how extensive and nefarious their ties are.
Trump was fined for money laundering by the Treasury, and he has a litany of money launderers in his organization—many of those who are connected to the Kremlin (but certainly not all of them). His businesses are filled with Russian cash—as his son Donald Jr. famously said in 2008—and my theory is that this relationship means that the Kremlin has a ton of leverage over him, and that is why he refuses to denounce one of mankind’s most notorious authoritarians in Vladimir Putin. It’s also what enabled them to slip some obvious Kremlin shills into his orbit. As far as selling off Russian assets to get in Trump’s world or any of the other much less verifiable relationships, that is where I stop. If you want the full rundown of what I believe, here is part five of my five-part series with a unified theory as to how this all ties together.
In short, there are conspiracy theorists, and then there are conspiracy theorists. The former stick to the dictionary term of the word, meaning “a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful,” while the latter write their own John Grisham novels. My series was heavily sourced with reporting from traditional outlets like The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Moscow Times among many others, and I tried to stick to the dictionary term of the word “conspiracy” as much as I could in my deep dive. Much of what you will find in these five accounts either misreads articles from established sources, or retreats to the farthest corners of Twitter to find justification for their assertions. So in order from least unhinged to most, here are five accounts you should avoid when it comes to #Russiagate.
5. Seth Abramson
As a general rule, it's safe to stay away from people who treat 50 tweet tweetstorms as a scoop worthy of endless promotion, and Abramson is shameless in this aspect. If it truly was a scoop, I'm fairly certain that either of his employers, The Huffington Post or the Dallas Morning News would publish it. Just a hunch.
Look people, I want the pee tape to be real. You want the pee tape to be real. Pretty much everyone but Donald Trump desperately wants the pee tape to be real. But if you do any cursory study of Russian intelligence history, you'll notice that this sure looks like disinformation intended to distract us from some sort of damning evidence contained within a dossier that is raw human intelligence, which I must remind you, has not been thoroughly vetted through the proper channels.
In this tweetstorm, Abramson seems to skim articles and draw wild conclusions to fit a narrative that desperately wants the pee tape to be real. He claims that because Boris Epshteyn—a close Trump adviser—left the White House under suspicious circumstances and he fits the profile of Source E in the dossier, therefore the pee tape is real. It's only after 45 freaking tweets that Abramson acknowledges that the certainty he just displayed must be checked.
4. Louise Mensch
This one is a bit more complicated because the former British politician-turned journalist provided a serious scoop which has been corroborated by A+ journalistic institutions like the BBC and The Guardian. It was her report that set off Donald Trump's famous “tapp” accusation against former President Obama, where she said he was specifically named in a FISA request that was denied, before a narrower, subsequent one was approved in October. Both the BBC and The Guardian confirmed that a FISA request in October was granted (although neither agree with her assertion that Trump was named explicitly in previous applications), and it was then that I began to take her seriously. I ventured to her Patribotics blog to see what other insight she may have, and was wholly unprepared for what I was about to face. From her column titled “The Carolina Conspiracy:”
What if Vladimir Putin directed the entire attack—not via a “15 year old girl” from Gaston, North Carolina, but by a hardened group of adult hackers from that state who had penetrated the emails of Director Brennan of the CIA, and doxed and attacked hundreds of FBI and law enforcement personnel?
She alleges that because the infamous Russian hacker Nikulin—who was arrested in Prague by U.S. authorities in October—was able to hack the communication system that Anthony Weiner used with the 15-year-old girl he was sexting with, that it was actually Russian-connected hackers based out of North Carolina who reactivated those messages on his laptop—thus alerting the FBI to Hillary Clinton's additional e-mails that James Comey fatefully disclosed a couple weeks before Super Tuesday.
This is a compelling thought that had me going for a bit, right up until I googled “15 year old girl Anthony Weiner” and the second freaking result was an audio interview with this girl, so we can confirm that she very much exists. Welp.
That's just the tip of the iceberg of her conspiracy theism.
Take everything she says into consideration with an entire salt mine, folks.
3. Scott Dworkin
In his bio, Dworkin says he is a community organizer, but that hasn't stopped him from proclaiming himself a #TrumpLeaks—#TrumpRussia—#RussiaGate expert, and even branding himself with his own hashtag: #DworkinReport, where he studiously goes through these connections to alert to you, the reader, how he has uncovered THE TRUTH behind this story. His pinned tweetstorm treats the dossier as unadulterated fact and attempts to corroborate everything it says. But like any good Democratic operative, he cannot start to reveal THE TRUTH to you before connecting it to grandma's loss.
So you mean that a man whose job it is to represent a government had a file on someone affiliated with ANOTHER government? Holy crap. We may be four, maybe five more tweetstorms away from blowing this thing wide open folks.
If you're wondering how far he's willing to take this conspiracy on a regular basis, here's a taste.
2. Peter Daou
Know those stories of Japanese soldiers who stayed isolated on islands for decades, continuing to fight World War II? That's Peter Daou, but for Hillary Clinton. Daou doesn't go as far off the reservation as the other folks in this list when it comes to hypothesizing how much influence Russia has, but he makes up for it with the biggest Hillary blind-spot known to mankind with fiery hot taeks like this one.
Peter is the kid who loses a game of basketball and then screams for a do-over while pretending he didn't righteously get his ass kicked in the first game.
1. Eric Garland
You may know him as Game Theory Guy (side note: I really hate that he destroyed that term for everyone because it is actually quite useful to analyze some situations), but he has quickly become Unhinged Russia Guy. This one is so obvious that I don't really need to do much explaining for you, so just strap in and enjoy a sample from one of his many insane tweetstorms that you have no doubt seen retweeted into your timeline at some point.
I mean, who isn't a Russian operative these days?
It’s largely a good thing that we have so many people interested in what looks to be an extraordinary political scandal. Given how the Trump administration is now pretending to never have heard of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Carter Page and Roger Stone, it almost confirms that those are the targets of the FBI’s investigation. That Devin Nunes—who was on Trump’s transition team—has been running interference nonstop while the concurrent Senate investigation has gone through smooth sailing further raises alarm bells. This is not how innocent people act. However, these Twitterati aren’t helping this issue by connecting EVERYTHING to Russia.
My hunch is that a lot of these tweetstorms are the product of our utter lack of knowledge of history, and so now that many people are just learning that Russia—SHOCKER—has its hands in some pretty sketchy stuff, anything connected to Russia is therefore connected to that sketchy stuff. It’s not that simple, and there’s a reason that the FBI has been as methodical as they have been in their attempt to unravel this story. These five and many others like them have their hearts in the right place, but they are detracting from the legitimacy of this story every time one of us sees this tossed into our feed:
Take a deep breath folks. This is going to take a while, and the people who wind up cracking this case open won’t be me or any of the other people named above, but those in our intelligence services who are, you know, trained to study this type of thing.
Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.