The furor over Donald Trump's July 25 phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky has not been easy to figure out. Contrary to initial reports, the president said nothing about a quid pro quo, and he didn't push the Ukrainian president to "dig up dirt" on Joe Biden either. All he did according to the official transcript was ask Kiev to look into his activities, and all Zelensky did in response was guarantee that any such investigation "will be done openly and candidly." An honest inquiry into a politician who cheerfully confessed to forcing out a prosecutor looking into his son's company - what's wrong with that?
But now the mystery is solved. The uproar is not about Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani investigating the former vice president. It's about William Barr investigating Russiagate, which is far more important.
This became clear early this week when the New York Times reported that Trump had also phoned Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and asked him to cooperate with the attorney general. Suddenly, Giuliani and Biden were forgotten as the rest of corporate media screamed themselves hoarse. "Democrats' worst fears about William Barr are proving correct," declared the Washington Post. "AG Bill Barr finds himself 'neck deep' in Trump scandal," said MSNBC. The Daily Beast called for his impeachment while the Guardian accused him of nothing less than attempting to "rewrite the history of the 2016 US presidential election."
This was cheeky coming from a newspaper that tried to rewrite history itself by falsely accusing imprisoned whistleblower Julian Assange of meeting with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in connection with stolen Democratic Party emails.
But it was all nonsense. Trump's crimes - waging war on Yemen, blockading Iran, attempting to starve Venezuela into submission, etc. - are almost beyond enumeration. But this is not one of them. Despite the cries of outrage, he did nothing wrong in phoning up Scott Morrison, and neither did Barr in flying to London and Rome to seek their cooperation. Indeed, both men would have been remiss if they didn't.
The reason is that Australia, Italy, and the UK are as central to Russiagate, the pseudo-scandal that dominated US headlines for two and a half years, as the Ukraine is to l'Affaire Biden. After all, it was an Anglo-Maltese academic named Joseph Mifsud who told Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that Russia had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," and it was Aussie diplomat Alexander Downer, a self-described " warrior for the Western alliance," who elicited the news from Papadopoulos at a London wine bar and then triggered a formal investigation by informing the FBI.
It was an ex-British intelligence agent named Christopher Steele who sent the press into a frenzy when someone leaked his phony "golden showers" dossier in January 2017. It was ex-British intelligence chief Sir Richard Dearlove who coached Steele on how to spread word of his "findings," and it was a long-time US intelligence agent named Stefan Halper, a colleague of Dearlove's at Cambridge University, who flew Papadopoulos to London so he could pepper him with leading questions:
"It's great that Russia is helping you and the campaign, right, George? George, you and your campaign are involved in hacking and working with Russia, right? It seems like you are a middleman for Trump and Russia, right? I know you know about the emails."
"I don't know what the fuck you're talking about," Papadopoulos says he replied. If he had taken the bait on the other hand, the FBI might have charged him with collusion and forced him to wear a wire so he could entrap other Trump campaign officials as well.
As for Italy, that's where Mifsud has reportedly been holed up since early 2017. Anyone wishing to get to the bottom of Russiagate would want to know who is protecting him - and hopefully Rome will now help Barr find out.
Russiagate was one of the most bizarre episodes in modern political history, a wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at driving a legally-elected president out of office. The Times, WaPo, MSNBC, and the Guardian were all neck deep in the scandal, and now they're neck deep in the cover up by attempting to deep-six the official Department of Justice investigation into how Russiagate began before it is even completed. If they get away with it, the big loser will be the public- and democracy as well.