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Interview With Journalist Aaron Maté: On The Collapse Of Russiagate Conspiracy Theory

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola were joined by journalist Aaron Maté to talk about the end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Mueller was unable to establish that “members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Maté, a contributor to The Nation, was one of the few journalists who consistently questioned the Trump-Russia narrative, and he made the rounds this past week to several shows to discuss the death of Russiagate. We’re very grateful that he stopped by “Unauthorized Disclosure.”

In a piece headlined, “RIP, Russiagate,” and published by The Nation, Maté wrote, “The outcome is no surprise to those who scrutinized the facts as they emerged. Time and again, the available evidence undermined the case for such a conspiracy.”

“None of the characters presented to us as Russian ‘agents’ or Trump-Kremlin ‘intermediaries’ were shown to be anything of the sort. None of the lies that Trump aides or allies were caught telling pointed us toward the collusion that members of the media and political figures insisted they were hiding,” Maté added. “None of the various pillars of Russiagate—the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting; the fanciful assertions of the Steele dossier; the anonymously sourced media claims, such as Trump campaign members’ having “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials”—ever led us to damning evidence.”

“All of that is likely why Mueller never charged anyone with involvement in (or covering up) a Trump-Russia conspiracy.”

During the show, Maté talks about what it was like to be one of the few journalists in the United States media to cover the Mueller investigation responsibly. He highlights some of the media reaction to the end of the investigation, particularly among pundits desperate to keep the conspiracy alive.

We discuss how Russiagate will probably never go away entirely and why it was dangerous for Democrats to push it. Maté addresses how Democrats, especially staff from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, were so invested in pushing the Trump-Russia narrative.

And Maté reminds us that it was not only CNN and MSNBC that fueled this panic. Various progressive media outlets gave platforms to journalists, who bought into Russiagate as well.

Click the above player to listen to the interview or go here. The show is also available on iTunes and Spotify.

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“I know that it was considered a marginal position to question the evidentiary basis for the sort of smug confidence that there was a Trump-Russia conspiracy. But I never doubted for a second that this day would come, when that conspiracy theory was rejected,” Maté declared.

He added, “None of these indictments ever alleged a Trump-Russia conspiracy or ever accused anybody of ever covering up a Trump-Russia conspiracy. They were for process crimes or unrelated matters, like in the case of Paul Manafort that was basically a bank and tax fraud case.”

“The mandate that Mueller had was sufficiently broad. It was about any links and/or coordination between Trump and the Russian government.”

“The idea that Mueller would find there was some kind of quid pro quo between Trump and Russia, but he wouldn’t allege it or make any indictments for it is just a joke,” Maté argued. “It speaks to the intellectual level of the pundits who are relied on and treated somehow as experts on cable outlets like CNN and MSNBC.”

“What does it say about our political media culture that it was considered somewhat a fringe position to basically be a journalist, to say that we have to assess claims based on the available evidence and the evidence is not there?”

“Part of the problem is, I think there’s such Russophobia in this country that the moment a Russian [was] mentioned it imbue[d] whatever the development [was] with this presumption of suspicion and of it being sinister,” Maté suggested. “Not on the basis of the actual content, of whatever the development [was], but because there’s a Russian there. Because someone there [had] a Russian passport or [knew] somebody with a Russian passport.”

Maté listed off several examples to show how ridiculous it is for any pundit to say Trump has served Russia’s interests. Trump escalated U.S.-Russia tensions by withdrawing the U.S. from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Trump has tried to overthrow Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro, a top ally of President Vladimir Putin. This has forced Russia to expend resources and energy to help him survive some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed by the U.S. government on a country.

Trump bombed Putin’s ally in Syria, Bashar al Assad, twice, which President Barack Obama never did. His administration also is fighting the construction of a Russia-German gas pipeline. “So much so that he is threatening sanctions on the pipeline.” Plus, sanctions were imposed on Russia and Russian diplomats were expelled.

Nearly two years ago, Maté warned in a piece that critiqued MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, “What if the allegations are ultimately disproved or go nowhere? Maddow and like-minded influential liberals will have led their audience on a fruitless quest all the while helping foment anti-Russia sentiment, channeling Democratic Party energy away from productive self-critique, and diverting the focus from the White House’s actual policies. Trump would be handed a further gift via the damaged credibility of his ‘enemy’—the media responsible for holding him to account.”

“That’s what I warned about two years ago and I think that’s exactly what happened,” he said during the interview. He described the outcome as a massive gift for Trump.

Additionally, Maté said, “Think about all the opportunities that were wasted to build a real resistance because basically aside from a couple of flare-ups, like the war on immigrant families and very early on in the Trump administration, the Muslim ban, there’s been very little sort of mobilization and protest.”

The resistance to Trump held protests over the firing of Jeff Sessions from his position as Attorney General that were way bigger than any protests against Trump’s “tax heist,” where the “Republican Congress passed the biggest upward transfer of wealth in U.S. history.”

In the end, this is not only about Trump. “Russiagate has been useful for a bipartisan foreign policy establishment that demonizes Russia and fearmongers around the issue of Russia and uses that to justify huge spending on weapons and expansionist, interventionist aggression abroad and destabilization abroad.”

These elites need Russia as an enemy, and “there will continue to be incentives for playing along and there will continue to be harsh censure for those who challenge it,” Maté acknowledged.

“The only hope lies with people with integrity not being intimidated, not buying into it—whether that’s people in Congress, people in the media, or just people who are neither but care about a sane world, where we’re not driven by Cold War paranoia and we’re actually trying to reduce tensions, not escalate them.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."