Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

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Republicans, Russians, Woe Is Us!

A few days ago, somebody on Twitter was criticized for repeating Russian propaganda. Instead of denying the charge, he accused his critic of “red-baiting”, i.e. attacking him for being a communist or some other kind of dangerous left-winger. A number of people pointed out the absurdity of his response.

He was reminded that the Soviet Union is long gone. Russia isn’t “red” in any sense of the word. Putin leads a right-wing, anti-democratic, authoritarian/populist regime like the ones in Hungary, Poland and Turkey (and Florida and Texas). His government trumpets “traditional” Russian values, is supported by the Russian Orthodox church, attacks gay and transgender people, and has made him and his pals incredibly wealthy. Segments from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show are celebrated on Russian TV. The only red-baiting being done these days is by ridiculous Republicans who think Joe Biden is a socialist or even a commie.

I was reminded of this Twitter exchange — in which someone repeating Kremlin talking points claimed to be a victim — by two articles, one about the Republican Party, the other about life in a Russian prison. Both show how conspiracy theories and victimization play a major role in right-wing ideology.

First, from Brian Klaas for The Atlantic:

In Britain and the United States—and across most faltering Western democracies— democratic dysfunction is routinely chalked up to a catchall culprit: polarization….But Britain’s and America’s democratic woes are not at all the same. The problems in American democracy are worse….

Other countries, including the U.K., have polarization. America has irrational polarization, in which one political party has fallen under the spell of conspiratorial thinking. Polarization plus this conspiracist tendency risks turning run-of-the-mill democratic dysfunction into a democratic death spiral. The battle for American democracy will be a battle over reality.

Within the modern [Republican Party], conspiracy theories—about stolen elections, satanic cults, or “deep state” cover-ups—have replaced policy ideas as a rallying cry for [the] MAGA base….In Britain, far fewer people believe in conspiracy theories….

What’s really troubling about this political moment in America [is] that the delusions have infected the mainstream political leadership. The crackpots have come to Congress. When Kevin McCarthy finally became speaker of the House this week, one of the first photos to circulate was a selfie taken with Marjorie Taylor Greene, a former QAnon believer who once blamed a wildfire on Jewish space lasers.

Writing a similar sentence about modern British politics would be impossible. There’s just nothing like it. Instead, in Britain, conspiracy theorists are ostracized by the political establishment. Politicians may disagree about policy, but those who disagree about reality face real consequences.

Last week, for instance, Andrew Bridgen, a conservative member of the British Parliament, tweeted a graph from a conspiracy-theory website, spreading false information about the risks of COVID vaccines. The vaccination program, Bridgen wrote, was “the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust.” The response was swift. Bridgen was condemned across the political spectrum. His own party expelled him. The Tories, Britain’s ruling conservative political party, didn’t want to be associated with a conspiracy theorist.

Meanwhile, America’s political right is the leading global source of COVID conspiracy theories. The more outlandish, the better. Two years ago, in Ohio, in an almost exact parallel to Bridgen’s remarks, Republican State Representative Jennifer Gross compared mandatory vaccination to the Holocaust….She effusively praised the testimony of a quack expert who claimed that vaccines magnetize people, such that spoons will stick to your forehead following a shot. “What an honor to have you here,” Gross fawned, after the alleged expert testified that vaccines can “interface” with 5G cell towers. Gross faced no primary challenger and was recently reelected, with 64 percent of the vote.

Aside from the stupidity about the 2020 election, the biggest conspiracy theory on the right is that there’s a giant conspiracy to replace white people with non-white immigrants. Accepting the idea of the “Great Replacement” led to the idiots in Charlottesville chanting “you will not replace us” and ten people in Buffalo being murdered by the author of an anti-immigrant screed.

That brings me to the second article. It was written by Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian activist now being held in Moscow’s Pretrial Detention Center 5, after being arrested for criticizing the Ukrainian invasion:

Among the most stressful aspects of Russian prison life is exposure to government propaganda. Every cell I’ve been in has a television that is constantly turned on — and … most of the airtime across all major networks is taken up by relentless pro-regime and pro-war messaging not dissimilar to the “Two Minutes Hate” from George Orwell’s 1984. Except that, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, televised hate goes on for hours.

Propaganda is not limited to news bulletins and talk shows — it also permeates documentaries, cultural programs and even sports coverage. New Year’s Eve, when millions of Russians tune in to listen to popular songs and watch favorite movies, was also filled with propaganda messages.

The leitmotifs are always the same: Russia is surrounded by enemies. The West seeks to humiliate and dismember it. The Soviet Union was a noble and benevolent state … destroyed by a mischievous scheme of the Reagan administration with help from domestic traitors. The only reason Russia still exists is because Putin is there to protect it. Ukraine is a Western puppet state run by neo-Nazis through which the United States and NATO are trying to attack Russia. And Russian soldiers on the front lines are heroes defending the motherland. And so on — day after day, for hours on end. This is the distorted reality that millions of Russians have lived in for years — and it is frightening.

It is a reality that Putin took a long time and put in a lot of effort to construct. He began early: Days after his inauguration as president of Russia in May 2000, he sent armed operatives to raid the offices of Media Most, at that time Russia’s largest private media holding. Its flagship outlet was NTV, one of the country’s most popular television channels, known for hard-hitting news coverage, sharp political satire, criticism of the war in Chechnya and exposure of government corruption. Within a year, NTV was seized by the state. Before the end of 2003, the Kremlin had silenced all of Russia’s independent TV networks, establishing a complete monopoly on the airways. From then on, it was a straight road to dismantling what was left of Russia’s democracy — and, ultimately, to where we are today.

This is how Wikipedia describes conspiracy theories:

A conspiracy theory is an explanation for an event or situation that asserts the existence of a conspiracy by powerful and sinister groups … when other explanations are more probable. The term generally has a negative connotation, implying that the appeal of a conspiracy theory is based in prejudice, emotional conviction, or insufficient evidence.

Conspiracy theories are generally designed to resist falsification and are reinforced by circular reasoning: both evidence against the conspiracy and absence of evidence for it are misinterpreted as evidence of its truth, whereby the conspiracy becomes a matter of faith rather than something that can be proven or disproven.

Far too many Republicans (indulged by their leaders) and far too many Russians (brainwashed by their leaders) are convinced they’re the victims of conspiracies. Powerful forces are trying to replace white Americans! There is a war on Christianity! Vaccinations are worse than the disease! NATO’s purpose is to destroy Russia! Ukraine is the aggressor! For both groups, reality doesn’t count. What counts is the irrational fear that they are in serious danger, under attack by hateful conspirators who yearn for their destruction.

Getting Politics Wrong

Politics is generally more complicated than the ideas people have about it. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post has a column today called “Six things people believe about politics that are totally wrong”. I wouldn’t go that far, so I’ve added a few comments in italics. 

Like many billionaires, Elon Musk apparently sees himself as a genius not only in areas where he has real experience but in all things, including politics and government. Which is why he tweeted this about the omnibus spending bill Congress passed last month:

Untitled

This is a common type of misinformation, one that swirled about with particular intensity regarding the omnibus bill. Not that Musk doesn’t believe it; I’m sure he does. His tweet shows how easy it is to be seduced by ideas that have intuitive appeal but are completely wrong.

Let’s begin with Musk’s assertion and work our way through some other widespread but pernicious ideas about how politics works:

1

“If members of Congress read bills before voting on them, legislation would be better.”

How could anyone oppose that? But the truth is that most legislators usually don’t read the text — and that’s fine. It isn’t because they’re lazy. It’s because legislation involves a specialized type of language, written by experts for purposes that have nothing to do with understanding and wise decision-making. Members should know exactly what they’re voting on, but the text of bills is only tangentially related to that goal.

The omnibus bill runs more than 4,000 pages, because it’s funding our extraordinarily complex government, which does all kinds of things we want it to do, and it is written in arcane legislative language. I don’t care much whether my senators pored over the section on rural electrification and telecommunication loans that specifies this:

For the cost of direct loans as authorized by section 305(d)(2) of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 (7 U.S.C. 935(d)(2)), including the cost of modifying loans, as defined in section 502 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, cost of money rural telecommunications loans, $3,726,000.

Neither should you. It’s enough that they’ve been told, and are okay with, about $10 billion being spent in that particular section.

Except that legislators often don’t know exactly what they’re voting on, for a variety of reasons. They rely on their staffs and lobbyists to tell them what’s in a bill; they wait for Congressional leaders to tell them how to vote; and the legislative process is often too complicated and disorganized.

2

“If only we stopped wasteful spending, we’d solve most of our problems.”

Waste is bad, after all. And there is plenty of waste in government, just as there’s waste in pretty much every corporation and nonprofit organization everywhere.

But when someone rails against wasteful spending, they seldom specify exactly which spending is supposedly wasteful.

If you press them, they’ll probably cite either spending that’s utterly trivial — some silly-sounding program that spent a few hundred thousand dollars somewhere — or spending that is quite important but they don’t happen to like. Some people think Medicaid is “wasteful,” but the tens of millions of Americans who count on it likely disagree.

As a corollary, some assert that stopping spending will tame inflation. “The ONLY way to stop soaring inflation is to STOP RECKLESS SPENDING,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tweeted last month. Sounds reasonable, right? But inflation is declining, not soaring, and while the level of government spending can contribute to inflation, lots of other factors affect it too: interest rates, the resilience of supply chains and the weather, to name a few.

The truth is that people such as Scott who rail against “wasteful spending” want to spend on some things, but not others. The omnibus bill contained a staggering $858 billion for the Pentagon. At the current rate of growth, we’ll spend more than $10 trillion on the military over the next decade. Ask Republicans whether we should cut that to tackle inflation and see what they say.

Nevertheless, there is wasteful spending that isn’t trivial at all and that deserves more scrutiny. Consider what Charles Pierce of Esquire has written about the F-35 fighter plane, production of which is ten years behind schedule:

This turkey is nowhere near the national disgrace it deserves to be. It simply does not work, which has not stopped the U.S. defense industry from peddling it around the globe…..There was a time when its ejector seats decapitated the crash-test dummies. There was that other time when it could not fly in a thunderstorm because its fuel tanks would explode if struck by lightning. [A] General Accounting Office report was completely merciless. It opened a window into the Alice In Wonderland world of the defense budget.

3

“My family balances its budget. Why shouldn’t the government?”

The reason is that the government is not a family or a household. For instance, when times are tough, deficits do, and should, go up. That’s because the government brings in less revenue and has to do more to help people. If the government slashed spending during every recession to balance the budget, it would only make things worse.

Your family also probably borrows money to invest in important long-term projects that cost too much money to pay cash up front — like your home or your education. So should government.

Yet the government also borrows for short-term operations. And when times are good, balancing the budget and even running a surplus would make sense. The Clinton administration did it four years in a row, the only four years it’s happened since 1970 [Wikipedia].

4

“Government should be run like a business.”

But government isn’t a business. It’s not an enterprise devoted to obtaining profits. It does many things that cost money but don’t produce a financial return, like delivering mail to far-flung rural addresses or caring for the sick.

Or building fleets of fighter aircraft. This commonplace wisdom really is totally wrong.

5

“The parties need to stop the partisan squabbling and get things done.”

This is an incredibly common idea, one driven by the presumption that political differences are meaningless. But especially in our polarized age, political differences are incredibly meaningful.

Partisans “squabble” over questions such as whether abortion should be legal, whether taxes for the wealthy should go up or down, what to do about climate change, whether to extend health coverage to more people and whether workers deserve higher pay, to name just a few.

There aren’t nonpartisan answers to these questions just waiting to be seized if people would put aside party loyalties. Those loyalties are driven by deeply held values, and, a lot of the time, conservative and liberal values aren’t compatible.

Although too often, politicians squabble in order to score political points. In recent years, it’s been Republican politicians making the most trouble, in order to rile up their supporters and get on Fox News.

6

“We need more people in Congress who aren’t politicians.”

You hear this often from first-time candidates, who present their lack of qualifications as their key qualification. Yes, politicians are prey to some bad tendencies — self-aggrandizement, cravenness, short-term thinking — but just as you wouldn’t hire an accountant to rewire your house or an electrician to do your taxes, you need people who understand politics and policy to deal with political and policy questions.

A grain of truth here is that Congress would benefit from having more “statesmen”, members more dedicated to the public good than keeping their jobs. Mr. Waldman could have added “self-preservation” to his list of negatives.

To return to the omnibus spending bill, none of this means there aren’t objectionable things in the bill. There are. But they didn’t get there because members didn’t read the bill, or because anyone was being “reckless,” or because of a deficit of common sense. They were choices, some of which you might like and some of which you won’t. That’s how policymaking works.

I Intend To Never Mention This Again

Whitewater. Her emails. Our latest fake scandal can’t possibly generate as much bullshit as those two. Nevertheless, it’s worth being reminded of a few simple facts. Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine does the reminding with “Biden’s Document Blunder Is Nothing Like Trump’s Crime”:

The sweet spot for D____ T____’s allies has always been when they can justify his abuses and crimes through misdirected comparisons rather than direct defense. Did T____ extort Ukraine into smearing his opponent? Well, Ted Kennedy once did something kind of like this. Did T____ try to stay in office after losing the election? Maybe so, but let us tell you about the time a Democrat registered an objection to the Electoral College count in Congress.

The key aspect of these arguments is exaggeration, not fabrication. They seize on real events, often genuinely bad things done by other politicians, then use them as pretext to dismiss actions by Trump of a vastly greater order of magnitude.

As many people have very neutrally pointed out, the news that President Biden held on to classified documents is pure manna for T____’s defenders. It gives them a set of facts to work with that, if examined without any of the important context, can be spun to the willfully credulous as evidence that these men have committed similar crimes.

“There’s no good case for putting a President in prison — much less making two Presidents into cellmates — for improperly retaining materials from recent public office,” intones The Wall Street Journal. “When Mr. T____ was out on a limb by himself, this point was less obvious to some of our media competitors. Now that Mr. Biden faces a similar inquiry, perhaps they see how ridiculous it is.”

But T____ is not potentially facing charges because he improperly took classified documents. It’s because when the government found out about the documents, he refused to give them back and — allegedly — took steps to hide them from the FBI. This is not a small twist on the same crime. It is the crime.

You might say, in T____s defense, that he had no underlying motive to hold on to the documents — that is, they didn’t contain any national-security secrets he planned to sell or incriminating information he wished to hoard. That is probably true. The motive instead seems to be that T____ does not believe the law applies to him.

This is how he has operated for his entire career. He cheats, lies, and steals in the expectation that he can brazen out any consequences. He can simply refuse to let Black people rent an apartment or pay contractors what he promised them or lie to his lenders about his worth, and whatever cost he faces will be worth it. The reason his document theft rose to the level of a federal crime was that he applied this method to behavior that is covered by the federal criminal code and handled by prosecutors he can’t necessarily bully or bribe into submission.

When T____’s allies moan about his supposedly unfair treatment, the distinction is hiding in plain sight of their complaints. “Where’s the raid? Where’s the pictures of the classified documents? Where’s the special counsel?” demands Jim Jordan.

“Why hasn’t the FBI raided Joe Biden’s home?” asks Dan Crenshaw.

The obvious answer is that Biden didn’t refuse to give back the documents. Indeed, his lawyers volunteered that they had the documents and turned them over immediately. There was nothing to raid.

If T____’s lawyers had informed the National Archives that he’d mistakenly taken classified documents, or even if they had responded to requests from the archives by turning them over, the FBI never would have been involved. The documents themselves would never have become a criminal matter if T____ had complied with the law. It became one because he flagrantly refused to follow the law, which happened because T____ is a criminal.

The whole thrust of T____ist propaganda has been to act as though normal politicians making normal blunders are criminals in order to justify handing the presidency to a lifelong crook. T____ is not a smart man but shrewd enough to comprehend that his party is fully invested in a narrative of Democratic evil that compels them to deem anything he’s done, however wrong or illegal, as no different than the actions of any other powerful man. If T____ shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, Republicans would start talking about [anything else].

Meanwhile, the deputy opinion editor of the Washington Post argued today that — although Biden’s situation is clearly different — the Department of Justice shouldn’t prosecute the former president/unindicted co-conspirator/lifelong con man and scofflaw, since the Department’s “credibility rests on being perceived to play fair” and millions of Republicans won’t think it’s fair that only their guy is prosecuted. The Post’s deputy opinion editor isn’t equally concerned about the credibility of a Department of Justice that doesn’t prosecute somebody for serious crimes because his supporters will be angry.

Heaping Mounds of B.S.

Yes, heaping mounds of bullshit.

Item 1:

Last month, The Hill reported that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will begin considering health risks associated with gas stoves:

The U.S. agency in charge of making sure the country’s consumer products are safe will weigh regulations on new gas stoves, one of the board’s commissioners said on Wednesday.

Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said during a virtual webinar on Wednesday that the commission will put out a formal request by March for information on hazards associated with gas stoves and possible solutions.

“This public request for information is the first step in what could be a long journey toward regulating gas stoves,” he said.

Trumpka is one of five commissioners who oversee the CPSC. He is the newest and least experienced commissioner, having served for only 13 months.

A reporter for Bloomberg News followed up with Mr. Trumpka a few days ago:

A federal agency says a ban on gas stoves is on the table amid rising concern about harmful indoor air pollutants emitted by the appliances. 

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to take action to address the pollution, which can cause health and respiratory problems. 

“This is a hidden hazard,” Richard Trumka Jr., an agency commissioner, said in an interview. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

Natural gas stoves, which are used in about 40% of homes in the US, emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels the EPA and World Health Organization have said are unsafe and linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer, and other health conditions, according to reports by groups such as the Institute for Policy Integrity and the American Chemical Society. Consumer Reports, in October, urged consumers planning to buy a new range to consider going electric after tests conducted by the group found high levels of nitrogen oxide gases from gas stoves. 

Mr. Trumpka’s remarks set off the usual wave of outrage from right-wing politicians and commentators, which can be paraphrased as “Those damn liberal bureaucrats will take away my gas stove over my cold, dead body”.

From the Los Angeles Times, yesterday morning:

The head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the agency isn’t planning a ban on gas stoves, days after one of his colleagues said a ban was one option under consideration — comments that ignited a political firestorm.

“I am not looking to ban gas stoves, and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so,” Alexander Hoehn-Saric said in a statement Wednesday.

The  commission is researching emissions from the appliances and looking for ways to reduce related indoor air-quality hazards, he said.

Trumpka made a statement that is technically true — the sale of new gas stoves could conceivably be halted in future years — although it’s much more likely the agency will issue regulations on their performance, sometime in the distant future. If you hear something to the effect that the government is going to ban gas stoves, consider the source and move on.

Item 2:  The Washington Post summarized what we know about the classified documents found at a Biden office and at one of his homes:

White House statement first said that “a small number of documents with classified markings” — said to be about 10 — were discovered on Nov. 2 by the president’s personal attorneys while vacating office space used by Biden from mid-2017, shortly after his vice presidency ended, to early 2020. They were found in files in a locked closet. The statement said the White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives that same day. The Archives took possession of the documents the following morning.

Then Biden’s lawyers conducted a search of Biden’s Delaware residences in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach. The White House said on Jan. 12 that a “small number” of additional documents with classified markings were found in the garage of the Wilmington residence; one page was found “among stored materials in an adjacent room.” No documents were found in Rehoboth Beach. All were turned over to the Justice Department, the White House said. Garland said the documents were found in the garage on Dec. 20 and the additional page was discovered on Jan. 12.

We don’t know what the documents were or what level of classification they had (“confidential”, “secret”, “top secret” or what amounts to top top secret, “special access”). We don’t know Biden’s personal involvement with the documents. What we do know is that so far there is no indication that anybody involved is at risk of prosecution.

Yet, Republican politicians and their media associates claim to be outraged. From U.S. News:

Rep. Andy Biggs, Texas Republican, said on Twitter that Biden “stole” the documents. “Biden stole classified documents and stored them at his think tank while he was VP…. And this “think tank” received $54 million in funding from the CCP,” Biggs said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “The Biden family highly concerns me. Joe, Hunter, and even ‘Dr.’ Jill. They are compromised and must be investigated.”

The news of the classified documents was featured prominently on prime-time conservative television. “So the question is, were those donors peering at the classified documents, the national security secrets that Joe Biden had been stashing at the fake think tank that [the University of Pennsylvania] set up for him?” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on his show Monday night in a long segment about the disclosure.

“When will the FBI raid his home?” Rep. Troy Nehls, Texas Republican, asked on Twitter, referring to Biden.

From the Post article:

Do classified documents often show up in someone’s possession improperly? It happens all the time, according to Mark S. Zaid, a lawyer who defends people who have committed security violations. Someone retires or leaves a job, he or she packs up boxes — and then sometimes years later they discover they accidentally stored a classified document in their garage or attic. What happens next depends on how the person deals with the discovery.

In the vast majority of cases, Zaid said, the matter is handled administratively — security clearance is suspended, for example — especially if the incident was quickly reported, investigators determine no one else saw the documents, and the amount of lifted materials was not massive. He said “hoarders” — people without authorization who take a lot of classified documents — are the ones who get in trouble [but also people who resist giving them back].

In the T___ case, the Archives initially contacted the former president in May 2021 about missing documents. T___ resisted returning them. Then, when some boxes were returned a year ago, Archives officials discovered documents clearly marked classified, some at the  [“special access”] level. The classified documents were intermingled with printouts of news articles, mementos and other items. That triggered an investigation into possible mishandling of classified information.

The FBI, in seeking a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago for more documents, says the boxes contained 184 documents with classification markings: 67 marked confidential, 92 marked secret and 25 documents marked top secret.

In August [2022], when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, they seized more than 100 additional documents marked classified, from the confidential to the top secret level. While most were found in a storage room, some were found in desk drawers in T____’s office….

Zaid said that if T____ had returned all the missing documents when the Archives first requested them, that would have been the end of the matter. It became a criminal matter “only because T____ and his lawyers delayed at first and then obstructed,” he said.

But doesn’t the appointment of a special counsel imply that this new development is a very serious matter?

No, the Department of Justice is supposed to appoint a special counsel if the “investigation … is warranted and that investigation … would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances”. Some observers don’t think a special counsel is appropriate, but given the political context and news media interest in the case, perhaps it’s just as well that it’s being treated seriously. And there is an obvious conflict of interest between President Biden and a government department for which he is responsible. Given that the former president is being investigated for actual criminal behavior regarding classified documents, the circumstances also seem rather extraordinary.

Harry Frankfurt, a Columbia philosophy professor, once defined “bullshit” as “speech intended to persuade without regard to the truth. The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn’t care if what they say is true or false, but cares only whether the listener is persuaded [Wikipedia].

Mounds of bullshit. We should not be persuaded.

The Untold Story of “Russiagate” and the Road to War in Ukraine

If you run a newspaper and want people to pay attention to an important article, don’t make it 10,000 words long (which would amount to 30 typewritten pages) and don’t publish it two days before a national election. Jim Rutenberg, a reporter for The New York Times, wrote just that kind of article. “The Untold Story of ‘Russiagate’ and the Road to War in Ukraine” was published on November 6, 2022, two days before the midterm election, and hardly anybody seems to have noticed.

A few days earlier, the Times had printed a summary of Rutenberg’s article, written by Rutenberg himself, but the summary was just one of many “live” updates that day regarding the war in Ukraine. The Times put it between “Russian military bloggers criticize the Kremlin for rejoining the Ukraine grain deal” and “Poland erects a razor-wire fence along its border with Russia’s Kaliningrad”. I doubt many people noticed.

Here’s the summary:

Russia’s meddling in Trump-era politics was more directly connected to the current war than previously understood.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s assault on Ukraine and his attack on American democracy have been treated largely as two distinct story lines.

Yet those two narratives came together on a summer night in 2016 when Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, met with Paul Kilimnik, a Russian citizen who ran the Kyiv office of Manafort’s international consulting firm.

Mr. Kilimnik shared a secret plan calling for the creation of an autonomous republic in Ukraine’s east, giving Mr. Putin effective control of the country’s industrial heartland, where Kremlin-backed “separatists” were waging a two-year-old shadow war.

The scheme cut against decades of American policy promoting a free and united Ukraine, but Mr. T____ was already suggesting that he would upend the diplomatic status quo; if elected, Mr. Kilimnik believed, Mr. T____ could help make the plan a reality.

First, though, he would have to win. Which brought the men to the second prong of their agenda — internal campaign polling data tracing a path through battleground states to victory. Manafort’s sharing of that information would have been unremarkable if not for one important piece of Mr. Kilimnik’s biography: He was not simply a colleague; he was, U.S. officials would later assert, a Russian agent.

In the weeks that followed, Russian operatives would intensify their hacking and disinformation campaign to damage Hillary Clinton and help turn the election toward T____. What the plan Mr. Kilimnik offered on paper is essentially what Putin … is now trying to seize through sham referendums and illegal annexation.

This second draft of history emerges from a review of the hundreds of pages of documents produced by investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and for the Republican-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; from impeachment-hearing transcripts and the recent crop of Russiagate memoirs; and from interviews with nearly 50 people in the United States and Ukraine, including four hourlong conversations with Mr. Manafort himself.

The Russia investigation and its offshoots never did prove coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow, though they did document numerous connections. But to view the record through the war, now in its ninth month, is to discover a trail of underappreciated signals telegraphing the depth of Mr. Putin’s Ukrainian obsession.

Mr. Rutenberg could have added that viewing the historical record in the context of the war also helps explain Russia’s support for the ex-president and why he and his most rabid supporters are still taking Russia’s side.

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