Whispers about the late Senator John McCain’s involvement in spreading the infamous Steele dossier around Washington mostly have been a sidebar to the larger scandal. But the court deposition of David Kramer, a close associate of McCain who was part of a defamation lawsuit related to the dossier, now confirms McCain’s wider role.
Explosive details in the deposition, released to the public on March 14 on order by a Florida district court, reveal how Kramer and McCain distributed the infamous Steele dossier to the media, the FBI, and Republican lawmakers after the November 2016 election. It’s now a harsh fact that one of Trump’s most powerful foes on Capitol Hill worked in tandem with Democratic schemers to discredit his election.
This is not inconsequential news. Further, McCain and Kramer’s handling of the still-unverified dossier authored by Christopher Steele, a British political operative, and peddled by Glenn Simpson, an influential Washington consultant who being was paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, is only one part of the story. McCain continued to ratchet up Trump-Russia hysteria after the election, as I wrote earlier this week. During a Senate hearing in June 2017, a clearly agitated McCain asked former FBI Director James Comey if he was aware that the Russians had information “that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail members of the administration?” Comey said he could not answer the question.
For rank-and-file Republicans closely monitoring how the Obama Justice Department weaponized federal powers in order to infiltrate the Trump campaign then fueled bogus suspicions about Trump-Russia election collusion after Trump won, this was another gut punch. McCain was defiant and vague about his role before his death in August 2018. But now it’s clear that a respected senator who accepted the support of tens of millions of Republican voters in 2008 during his losing bid for president betrayed many of those very same voters by attempting to sabotage Donald Trump.
It was the latest blow to McCain’s legacy in the GOP; before his death, he was far more popular with Democrats than with Republicans. In August 2018, McCain only had a 41 percent favorability rating among Republicans while 49 percent held an unfavorable view of the six-term senator, largely based on his strong opposition to Trump and his deciding vote on Obamacare repeal in 2017.
President Trump tweeted about McCain a few days after the release of Kramer’s deposition, referring to the late senator’s dossier involvement as a “very dark stain.” He followed up with another tweet: “So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) ‘last in his class’ (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election. He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage!” (According to Kramer’s testimony, McCain gave Comey the dossier in December 2016.)
This reignited a long-standing feud between Trump and McCain’s allies, including his daughter, Meghan, now a regular panelist on ABC’s “The View.” As the week wore on, Trump continued his verbal pounding of McCain; journalists, commentators and even some Republican lawmakers rushed to McCain’s defense.
“There is just no reason to be talking about Senator McCain after he has passed. He is not your poltical [sic] enemy Mr. President,” tweeted newly elected GOP heartthrob, Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas). “Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve,” tweeted Arizona Republican Martha McSally, who is filling out the remainder of McCain’s term.
But the episode again underscores the divide between official Washington and Trump’s base. It also is yet another infuriating example of how the media obfuscates, justifies, and flat-out ignores key details about what many Trump supporters view as an attempted soft coup to overthrow President Trump, one that destroyed the reputations and livelihoods of innocent people as it proceeded. Of course, the media was—and is—complicit in this scandal and shows no inclination to back down now.
“For Trump, attacking McCain is a way to appeal to his political base,” screamed a March 21 headline in the Washington Post. The three reporters, including former National Review writer Robert Costa, ticked off a long list of disagreements between Trump and McCain, including their divergent views of the Vietnam War (yes, really), concluding that Trump’s sudden attacks were an effort to “[stoke] his supporters’ rawest emotions and suspicions about the GOP’s political elite.” Oddly, the Post article does not cite the dossier or the Kramer deposition as the primary reason for Trump’s remarks this week. In fact, the Jeff Bezos-owned newspaper only once briefly mentioned Kramer in a March 17 article about why Trump was taking on McCain. “The judge last week unsealed documents related to the [BuzzFeed defamation] suit, including Kramer’s deposition, which is why the topic is again back in the news.”
New York Times reporter and Trump nemesis Maggie Haberman was totally perplexed about why the president suddenly was condemning McCain, and opined that Trump “tweeted about it seemingly out of nowhere over the weekend, possibly prompted by something he saw on TV.” This was nearly a full week after the Kramer deposition was posted online. Perhaps it’s unfair to blame Haberman for her ignorance since the Times does not have a single article or column about Kramer’s deposition.
“He just cannot let it go, he continues to attack a dead man, war hero Senator John McCain,” raged CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday. “McCain has been dead for seven months. Why? Who does this help?” One of Tapper’s panelists, self-proclaimed Republican strategist Kevin Madden, was equally puzzled. “I don’t know why he’s doing it,” Madden answered. “It’s so gratuitous and it’s in service of nothing. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense.”
Of course, Madden wasn’t the only so-called commentator on the Right who willfully ignored the relevant issue. Writing in Commentary on March 20, NeverTrumper and MSNBC contributor Noah Rothman dismissed the notion that Trump was angered at learning McCain and his associates (another person involved was a top staffer to McCain’s Senate Armed Services committee) were pushing fictional political opposition research paid for by the Democrats to top law enforcement officials and Trump-hating journalists after the election.
“The president would like to pretend as though his antipathy toward the late senator from Arizona is based…on the fact that [McCain] provided the troubling but unverified Steele Dossier to the proper authorities, as though that was a breach of decorum.” Rothman sniffed. It’s worth recalling that Rothman was an early promoter of Putin-Trump conspiracies, insisting in October 2016 that “the Russian leader is pulling Trump’s strings.”
In calling Trump a “harsh president,” conservative columnist Cal Thomas referred to the Steele dossier as “a private intelligence report compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele for the political research firm Fusion GPS.”
There was more general confusion on the Right. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tweeted how he “can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain.” Former NeverTrumper Erick Erickson, who recently admitted he would vote to re-elect Trump in 2020, warned “there’s no reason to keep digging up his memory to crap on it.”
And so on.
Fortunately, thanks to online journals like American Greatness and to numerous social media accounts with hundreds of thousands of combined followers, the actual facts about the dossier, the media’s complicity in its legitimization, and now, McCain’s post-election chicanery with it, are readily available for people who aren’t blinded by Trump hate or averse to reality. Trump may be muddying his own message with irrelevant remarks about McCain’s funeral, but his anger is real and justified. And it’s not just that the media, Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans don’t understand it. It’s that, as has been their collective pattern for nearly three years, they refuse to acknowledge any facet of the biggest political scandal in American history—largely because to some degree, they played a part in it or, at a minimum, they wish it we’re true.
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