On the January issue:
Trump and Russia
To the Editor:
Eli Lake proposes that because Hunter Biden “lives in Los Angeles” we should doubt that he dropped off a computer in Wilmington, Delaware (“Framed and Guilty,” January). Lake admits that “the emails and photos from Hunter Biden’s computer appear to be real,” but adds that “the story of how the laptop was obtained looks like a lie.” Yet, the Bidens have not called it a lie, or denied that the computer and its contents belong-ed to Hunter. Is it not conceivable that Hunter Biden lost track of where this computer was?
It is hard to see how he was “framed.” Can someone be framed with something “that appears to be real”? And if there was “foul play,” why are there no accusations of such coming from the Bidens?
The computer-shop owner turned the computer over to the FBI. Perhaps he was concerned that the bureau might sit on it too long and so he made a copy of its contents. After a while, perhaps the owner sent a copy to a likely interested party, Rudolph Giuliani.
Kelley L. Ross
Kingston, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Eli Lake wrote an excellent and fair summation of the Mueller Report and the Russian-meddling campaign. He might, however, have paid a bit more attention to Wikileaks. As outlined in the Mueller Report, Wikileaks was a complicit actor in this disinformation campaign. The organization’s journalistic pretenses were dashed for good when it chose a side in the 2016 election.
Wikileaks dumped emails in a very theatrical way so that the media and Donald Trump positively swooned. The Mueller Report shows that the Trump campaign was obsessed with locating Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails, but once Wikileaks got involved, there was no need for the Trump team to get its own hands dirty. Wikileaks provided the campaign with pseudo-journalistic cover. It’s not surprising that Trump praised the organization at every rally. It performed a service that no one in actual conservative media could’ve performed.
Downers Grove, Illinois
To the Editor:
It seems that Eli Lake’s account of the Trump–Russia saga skips over a necessary piece of the puzzle. For only if it is established that Russia in fact attempted to help Donald Trump win the election can there be a question of whether Trump colluded with the Kremlin in its efforts to help him.
From the 2016 primaries on, Trump was an object of amusement and then an embarrassment. He was not considered a serious contender. That he won the Republican nomination was astonishing, but as Election Day neared, it seemed ever more unlikely that he could attain the Oval Office. Virtually all the pundits and polls were in agreement on this. On Election Day, the New York Times was 85 percent sure that Hillary Clinton would win.
It is doubtful that Vladimir Putin and his associates decided that all expert opinion was wrong and that an unstable charlatan coming to power in the United States was not only possible but desirable for Russia. It is doubtful, too, that Putin thought Trump’s election could be assisted out of Moscow and that the effort would be worth the risk of exposure.
It is far more likely that the Russians believed, like everyone else, that Clinton had it in the bag. But the prospect of tainting her presidency from the start, by making her election look as fishy and dirty as possible, would certainly have appealed to Putin.
New York, New York
Eli Lake writes:
I wrote the words that Kelley L. Ross criticizes on the eve of the election. We now know there is a Justice Department investigation into the allegations about Hunter Biden. We also know there was a last-minute effort from wealthy Trump allies to shop the contents of his laptop to the press. I stand by my assessment that the initial story of how the shop came into possession of the laptop is implausible.
I agree with Scott Grams that Wikileaks took a side in the 2016 election. Julian Assange was against Hillary Clinton, and the emails his organization published helped Donald Trump. That does not really speak to Wikileaks as a journalistic organization. The emails that Trump wanted were deleted files that her private server contractor accidentally erased. These would prove, according to those trying to obtain them, that Hillary Clinton had jeopardized more classified material, technically a violation of the Espionage Act. The FBI director disagreed. And while the FBI did find classified material on Clinton’s private email server, the bureau couldn’t prove that Clinton intended to disclose it. So James Comey charged her for being reckless and exonerated her by declining to prosecute.
Wikileaks published internal campaign emails, hacked by Russia’s military intelligence. Those emails were placed on the Internet as a result of Russian cyber chicanery. Some of them were newsy, nonetheless. In 2016, there wasn’t any kind of consensus among news organizations on what to do with material initially hacked by a foreign government. Starting in the 2000s, but picking up in the 2010s, there was an explosion of stories based on leaked emails and hacked accounts. The government has yet to prosecute Assange for colluding with Russia. He has been charged under the Espionage Act, even though he is not a U.S. citizen and never had a clearance to handle classified information.
Marc Salzberger is correct. Russia sought to denigrate Clinton and probably believed she would win. But denigrating Clinton still helps Trump. The question was always whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in its campaign against Clinton. In the end, Mueller declined to charge that. But just because Trump didn’t conspire with Putin doesn’t mean Putin wasn’t trying to help Trump win the election.
Democrats and Israel
To the Editor:
Tevi Troy’s article demonstrated that Joe Biden is out of touch with the political realities of Israel (“What Happens to Israel When Democrats Are in the White House?” January). Biden’s complaint that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has moved “so, so far to the right” reveals his misunderstanding of Israeli society. For demographic and cultural reasons, the Israeli electorate has been moving slowly but inexorably to the right, so that recent polls show right-wing parties possibly able to gain some 75–80 seats in the Knesset. That’s the kind of political domination not seen since the leftist monopoly of the 1950s.
Yet the government is reluctant to implement right-wing policies. Extended sovereignty or annexation? No. Large-scale building in the Jewish homeland? No. Judicial reform? Despite white-hot fury of the right against the supreme court, nothing. Why not?
Because Netanyahu is not a right-winger. He is a centrist with, perhaps, some rightest sympathies—nothing more. But when Netanyahu leaves, as he must eventually, Biden will then see what “so, so far to the right” means in an Israeli context. Biden’s complete misreading of Israel’s electoral map speaks poorly for his future relationship with Netanyahu specifically and with Israel generally.
Larry M. Goldstein
To the Editor:
Tevi Troy’s article may prove to be prescient about what the next four years of U.S.–Israel relations have in store. But it provides no support for its claim about the Trump administration’s relationship to Israel, namely that “we shall not see its like again.” To make such a claim with any confidence, we would have to answer a few questions.
First, was Donald Trump’s unusually positive approach to Israel just a fluke, the result of having a Jewish daughter and son-in-law? Was it just reflexive pushback against his opponents on the left or against his predecessor?
Was it, perhaps, part of a more consistent policy viewpoint? Is there, in fact, such a thing as “Trumpism,” independent of the personality cult around one man? If Trump never has a second term, will the next Republican administration be similar to his in its policy toward Israel, or will it return to an earlier, more hostile GOP approach?
Finally, of course, what are the prospects for a second Trump term? If Trump wins again, what circumstances would lead him to adopt a more- or less-favorable approach to Israel?
Even if Trump himself leaves the political stage altogether, the Republican Party may now be more pro-Israel than it was at the start of the Trump administration. If so, there is hope that we could yet see its like again.
Tevi Troy writes:
Thanks to Larry M. Goldstein and David Hoffman for their comments on my article, especially their comments regarding my insights into what the Biden administration may bring. Republican administrations and their various approaches to Israel were not the focus of the article, and for that, readers can look to my earlier Commentary article, “How the GOP Went Zionist.” While the GOP has indeed become increasingly pro-Israel, my comment about not seeing anything like the previous administration in the future referred to the apparent absence of alternative points of view. I worked in the George W. Bush administration, which was indeed a pro-Israel administration, but that administration, like most, determined its policy positions with a greater recognition of the existence of alternative points of view, for good or for ill.
To the Editor:
In his column on the American response to the pandemic, James B. Meigs trashes Donald Trump up front but then, in at least six places, gives credit to the White House and Trump administration for solving one problem after another (“It Could Have Been So Much Worse,” January). Why?
Not mentioned were the serial blunders of Dr. Fauci or how the Biden campaign first downplayed the virus, then refused to blame China, and condemned the White House for being both too panicky and not concerned enough. Both Dr. Fauci and Joe Biden opposed the travel ban and quarantine. But Trump made the tough calls, and he was right. New York saw endless deaths due to COVID-19, even though the hospital ships Trump made available should have cut those numbers dramatically. Whose fault is that? Not Trump’s but Governor Andrew Cuomo’s.
James B. Meigs writes:
I think Peter Huessy was hoping for a column on a different topic, one tallying up all the mistakes Democrats have made during the pandemic. That is something I’ve written about a good deal—especially with regard to New York’s infuriating governor—and will no doubt continue to discuss. But this column wasn’t about government success or failure. It was about how, in the face of the pandemic, “private industry and free markets proved flexible and innovative.” The government isn’t everything.
Biden and the Press
To the Editor:
Christine Rosen’s evisceration of the news media’s unapologetically partisan and self-important coverage of the Trump administration left me wanting to cheer (“The Media Have Been Doing Exactly What They Condemn Trump for Doing,” January).
It is undoubtedly true that Donald Trump’s behavior as president degraded our politics and demeaned the office in which he served. But the media’s taking his ascendency as the occasion for its final abandonment of all standards of fairness and objectivity has been even more harmful.
With the departure of Trump, we may at least hope that some civility will eventually return to political debate. But public trust in news organizations that were once regarded as unimpeachable may have been irredeemably lost.
Howard F. Jaeckel
New York, New York
Christine Rosen writes:
As Howard F. Jaeckel correctly notes, the mainstream media face an immediate challenge as Joe Biden assumes power: Will they hold him and his administration accountable for how they wield that power, or will they act as block and tackle for the Democratic majority? The early signs are not encouraging: a flood of cloying stories about the president’s favorite ice-cream flavor and the power of the vice president’s sneaker choices, for example, but little skepticism about Biden’s misleading statements on the pandemic and his peremptory and even, I daresay, Trump-like dismissals of press questions he doesn’t want to answer. Worse, the media thus far have eagerly played the identity-politics game with regard to Biden’s cabinet and agency choices, praising nominees not for any skill they bring to their positions but for checking the “correct” identity-politics boxes. These early signs don’t bode well for rigorous and responsible mainstream-media coverage of the Biden administration.