Clinton, Hillary Rodham

Op-Ed Columnist: The Dossier Freakout

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The dossier that won’t die. “Check the DEMS!” President Trump tweeted yesterday. “We now have evidence that Democrats literally paid money for Russian intelligence,” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson claimed on his show. “The Democrat-Fusion-Russia story requires as full an investigation as the question of Trump-Russia collusion,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote.

Several readers have emailed me asking for help in making sense of this story, which is often known as the dossier story. Here goes:

Last year, a big law firm called Perkins Coie, which was working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee, hired a research firm named Fusion GPS to do opposition research on Trump.

Opposition research is standard practice in politics, and it’s not pretty. It involves looking for dirt on an opponent and then publicizing that dirt. When you read an exposé in a major media organization about a political candidate, it sometimes started with old-fashioned investigative reporting — but other times it started with a handout from the opposition-research arm of a competing campaign.

Fusion is known for doing opposition research. During the Republican primaries, a conservative website funded, in large part, by Paul Singer, a Republican billionaire who didn’t want Trump to win the nomination, hired Fusion to look into Trump. After he did win the nomination, the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. hired Fusion and, through the law firm, paid for the research.

Fusion worked with a well-regarded former British spy named Christopher Steele to produce a dossier that accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia. The dossier also included salacious — and unproven, if not false — stories about Trump’s personal behavior.

Trump and his media allies have tried to downplay his campaign’s Russia dealings by saying the Clinton campaign’s financing of the dossier was even worse. It’s classic whataboutism, and it’s part of Trump’s effort to sow confusion about the allegations against him.

It’s also a silly comparison. Clinton’s campaign was engaging in the usual, if tough, practice of trying to uncover information that makes an opponent look bad. Trump’s campaign, by contrast, was potentially colluding with a foreign government hostile to the United States to disseminate stolen material — with Trump then lying about it and trying to prevent a federal investigation of it.

“Trump’s entire defense amounts to elementary school taunt: ‘I know you are, but what am I?’” writes Max Boot, summarizing a piece he’s written for Foreign Policy.

The dossier intrigue is part of a “frantic effort to distract attention from what we do know, which is … that Russia tried to meddle in the election,” Ruth Marcus has said on CBS. “Not for the first time,” The Los Angeles Times’s editorial board notes, “the president and his allies are seizing on a sideshow to distract attention from the main event.”

In The Times. Regular readers know that I consider the lack of economic diversity at the nation’s top public and private colleges to be inexcusable. In an op-ed, Paul Glastris of The Washington Monthly offers another good idea for improving the situation: these colleges should admit more adults — people who have spent years working before enrolling in (or returning to) college. Also, for the latest news on the New York terror attack, follow The Times’s news coverage.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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