Barr-bed Wire: A Framing Puzzle

2 May

Barr-bed Wire: A Puzzle


In the tidal waves of mainstream coverage of the Barr Performance(stonewalling; no show; legalistic hairsplitting; evasion and lies), there is a huge elephant in the room that as far as I can tell has been ignored:




This seems to have been Russia’s sole motive in trying to steer as many votes as possible to Trump. This made sense from the Kremlin’s point of view. After all, Hillary Clinton was supported by the American national security establishment, including self-described lifelong

Republicans, principally because she favored confrontation with Moscow over

a range of issues, including Crimea and Ukraine. Many of us feared her political

leadership was likely to produce a new cold war, or worse, especially as coupled

with her consistent support for regime-changing interventions in the Arab World

(Iraq, Libya). Despite my fears about Clinton’s foreign policy I voted for her in the end as the lesser evil, given Trump’s mean-spirited xenophobia masquerading as patriotism and his demagogic political style with its pre-fascist overtones.


I can understand why Republicans want to ignore such a framing of inquiry so as to invert the drama by calling for an investigation of Clinton’s wrongful use of a private computer to transmit classified material or to scrutinize the employment of a retired British intelligence agent to compile anti-Trump material. Obviously, the Clinton concern was prompted by this realization that the Russians were doing whatever they could to help Trump. It was hardly credible that she would have taken such a step had Russia been on her side, or that her level of indignation about meddling would have been active given her own support for U.S. efforts to influence the outcome of elections in more than one hundred countries. Indeed, indirectly, the Republicans are shrewd to attempt to shift the focus away from this underlying reality as at some point journalists are almost bound to contextualize the whole Barr/Mueller melodrama in relation to Russian support for Trump. Underneath such a question is a host of questions lying beneath a rock too volcanic to move. Among the most sensitive are questions bearing on the legitimacy of the 2016 elections. Remember that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million, and that the electoral college outcome favorable to Trump depended on exceedingly close votes in several large mid-Western states. Is it too great a stretch to conjecture that without Russian meddling, Clinton would today be the American president This seems to me to be the unasked question no self-respecting democracy can indefinitely ignore, however much Republicans prevaricate and Democrats lie low.


Yet while Republican tactics are reprehensible from perspective of constitutionalism and the rule of law, they make sense from the perspective of partisan politics in a winner-take-most in a highly polarized society. But why have not the Republicans framed their concerns around the report of the Special Counsel as presented by Barr in light of this contaminating feature. Surely, Clinton’s efforts were motivated by the knowledge that Moscow wanted Trump to win, and was doing its best to make this happen. By collecting information that showed Trump to be vulnerable to Russian pressures, or in league somehow with Putin, was both a rather natural defensive move but it was also an effort parallel to that of the FBI to investigate whether this kind of convergence could be viewed as a criminal conspiracy. Even if the elements of a conspiracy could not be established to the satisfaction of Mueller, that is, beyond a reasonable doubt, surely investigating whether there was such illicit cooperation was quite appropriate. The FBI, at its highest levels, even wondered whether Trump was a Russian agent. That such an outlandish possibility was even plausible, suggests the extremity of the situation.


Perhaps, the Democratic leadership regards it as too unpredictably disruptive to raise questions at this time about the 2016 election, especially as its 20+ candidates are jostling for right to challenge Trump in 2020. But why not back Barr into a corner by so framing their concern about misrepresenting the Special Counsel investigation of collusion and obstruction? This reality of Russia acting on its support of Trump is something beyond the abstract allegation of messing with the American electoral process. Such meddling should be resisted and prohibited as part of protecting the political integrity of sovereign states, but like espionage, it is both a crime and a practice ingrained in the habitual behavior of geopolitics. In most instances, the motivations for such covert intervention are to promote electoral results compatible with strategic goals, including economic advantages and geopolitical alignment. In a few instances, such interference is motivated by a genuine interest in preventing dangerous demagogues from gaining power, both for the sake of stable international relations and to uphold human rights. In this Russian instance, the principal goal seems to have been to defeat a hostile political figure from mounting the throne, but at the cost of promoting a menacing demagogue.


Of course, it is not too late to illuminate the national debate on Trump and Russia around this defining issue. With the totalizing mainstream media coverage, erasing all else that is going on in this country and around the world, such an oversight, if this is what it is, should be as alarming as an Attorney General that surrounds uncomfortable truths with Barr-bed wire!

5 Responses to “Barr-bed Wire: A Framing Puzzle”

  1. Beau Oolayforos May 2, 2019 at 8:52 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    This makes me wonder how much there is in Mueller’s report about Cambridge Analytica and similar entities…seems I remember a guy from that company bragging about the “razor-thin” margins of victory in some US states in 2016. And then the evidently skillful use of social media, replete with Russian bots, to tip the election, with digital merchandising techniques that the authors of those “Making of the President” books could scarcely have dreamt about.

  2. Gene Schulman May 2, 2019 at 11:55 pm #

    If it weren’t so dangerous for our children’s future, I’d say this whole farce about Russian meddling to elect Trump was some kind of parody. Worthy only of Jonathan Swift. I mean, just look at those idiots appearing before the bar, lying and making fools of themselves. I just don’t see how anyone with more than a first grade education can tolerate such nonsense.

    Two new books, John Mearsheimer’s ‘The Great Illusion’, and Stephen F. Cohen’s ‘War With Russia?,’ should be required reading before anyone is allowed to vote.

    • Beau Oolayforos May 4, 2019 at 11:36 am #

      Cohen’s concerns about the MSM beating the drums of war with Russia recall Sidney Bradshaw Fay’s account of how jingoist newspapers were a significant factor as the world “sleepwalked” into WW1. Never thought I’d be reassured by any thing Trump utters, but when he said recently that his talk with Putin was cordial, I cling to it. Very scary.

  3. paulm100m May 8, 2019 at 2:54 pm #

    I have the utmost respect for Richard Falk -his compassion, his knowledge , his support for the underdog; but to blindly accept that the “Russians interfered in the U.S. elections’ is rather sad. There is no evidence that it occurred -other than some paranoid accusations from Democrats and others to suit their political agendas. In fact there is clear evidence that the Russians did not hack the elections. The Democrat emails were definitely downloaded by usb stick by an insider; the social media posts from Russia prior to the election were far too small in volume and varied in content to have made a statistical difference to voter preference ( and I am certain the GRU would have known that!) And finally it would make no sense for the Russians to prefer Trump over Clinton- his behaviour was then, and is now- too erratic to be safe politically. While Hilary Clinton is most certainly a psychopath- she is a calculating one- her interests can be moderated and manipulated- Trump’s behaviour is that of a small child, unpredictable and dangerous with matches….

    • Richard Falk May 8, 2019 at 5:12 pm #

      I think you make an important point with respect to the Russian effect.

      On one point, I think there seems to be widespread agreement. The Russian policy community was overwhelmingly convinced that Clinton would provoke a second Cold War because of her aggressive response to developments in Ukraine. Maybe they were wrong, but this seems to have
      been what was perceived in Moscow. Trump was not an unknown quantity, but he oppose regime change and might have been subject to blackmail. or at least influence because of some incriminating information relating to financial dealings in Russia.

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