- David Cay JohnstonPulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. Johnston’s biography of Donald Trump is titled The Making of Donald Trump. He is also author of It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
- Glenn GreenwaldPulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept.
As congressional Democrats call on the Justice Department to release the full Mueller report, we speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who have closely followed the probes into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election: Glenn Greenwald, a founding editor of The Intercept and a leading critic of the media coverage of alleged Russian collusion, and David Cay Johnston, formerly of The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org, who has written critically about Donald Trump for decades. His most recent book is “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. To talk more about the Mueller report, we’re joined by two guests. Glenn Greenwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, has been one of the most prominent skeptics of the Russiagate probe. He’s speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. He’s been reporting on Donald Trump since the 1980s, has written, well, most recently, two books on him, his most recent, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with David Cay Johnston in Rochester, New York. David, your response to the Mueller report and to William Barr’s summary of what he found?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, we don’t know what’s in the Mueller report. We only know the brief interpretation offered by Bill Barr. But that interpretation opens whole new cans of worms. The standard here should not be beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the criminal standard. The standard is the constitutional requirements, which are faithful execution of the office and high crimes and misdemeanors, which doesn’t require any criminal offense of any kind, as the 18 impeachment proceedings we’ve had in this country have established beyond a doubt.
We need to see the full report. We need to have Mueller’s testimony. We need to know what it was that Mueller learned about such matters as Jared Kushner asking to use secret Russian diplomatic communications gear to contact the Kremlin without the knowledge of American intelligence, something the Russians made available to us to know by the way they transmitted a cable, knowing it would be read by intelligence agencies. We need to know why Don Jr., who said, “Love it,” when offered help by the Kremlin, was not questioned or indicted—most likely because his lawyers said he would take the Fifth Amendment. But why was he not charged? And we need to know about why he didn’t call FBI counterintelligence, which is the only thing any decent and patriotic American would do when given an offer by a foreign government to interfere in our election. And there’s a lot more that we need to know. We need to see the report in full. We need to hear Mueller’s testimony about it, not just Bill Barr’s interpretation of it, especially given that Barr sought this job and has positioned himself as someone who believes, essentially, the president virtually cannot commit a crime under our Constitution, certainly not obstruction of justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, your response?
GLENN GREENWALD: This is the saddest media spectacle I’ve ever seen, since I began practicing journalism in 2005. And what makes it even sadder is to watch all of the people who vested their journalistic credibility into what proved to be a complete and total fraud and scam continue to try and cling to some vestige of credibility by continuing to spin conspiracy theories that are even more reckless and more unhinged than the ones to which we’ve been subjected for three years. The great journalist and writer Matt Taibbi wrote in an article over the weekend, and I agree with him completely, that as humiliating as the media debacle was leading up to the Iraq War, what they did over the last three years in the Trump-Russia story makes all of that look like a pimple. Even though obviously the Iraq War was much more destructive because it led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the errors and lies and falsehoods and recklessness and speculation that we’ve been subjected to, over and over and over, that Robert Mueller just definitively debunked, is far more humiliating journalistically, far more unjustifiable journalistically. And who knows where it will lead to? It’s ratcheted up tensions between the two most dangerous nuclear-armed powers in the world, Russia and the United States, that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says has brought us to two minutes before midnight on their Doomsday Clock. So it’s also been extremely dangerous in ways that we don’t yet know.
Let me just say two things. Number one, everybody knows—and I don’t care how many people try and rewrite history—that the central question that everybody was obsessed with for three years was: Did Donald Trump, his family members and his aides conspire and collaborate and collude with the Russians to interfere in the election? And contrary to what David just said, it is absolutely false that Robert Mueller simply said there’s not enough evidence to convict with a reasonable doubt. He said something much, much, much, much more important than that. He said that after 20 months of investigation, with a huge team of FBI agents and prosecutors, heralded as being the most aggressive and skilled in the world, we found no evidence that this happened. That’s what Robert Mueller said. The whole thing was a scam and a fraud from the beginning. And The New York Times headline today says that as clearly as it can: Robert Mueller finds no collusion between Trump and Russia. That was the focal point of the entire narrative, no matter how much people try and change the focus.
The second point, this idea that, “Oh, we haven’t heard from Robert Mueller yet, we’ve only heard Bill Barr’s summary of him,” yes, that’s true. But Bill Barr has been friends with Robert Mueller for 30 years. They come from the same Republican circles in the Department of Justice. They both worked together at the Bush Justice Department, the Bush 41 Justice Department. All we heard for 20 months is that Robert Mueller is a man of the greatest integrity and patriotism. The idea, the very idea—just think about this—that he would allow Bill Barr to run around making false and misleading distortions about what the Mueller team found, and not one person on the Mueller team, including Bob Mueller himself, would stand up and say, “Wait a minute, he is distorting what our findings was,” that is laughable. That’s exactly the kind of conspiracy theories that led to this entire mess in the first place, and we should no longer tolerate this. Rachel Maddow and MSNBC are the Judy Millers of this story, except, unlike Judy Miller, who was scapegoated for doing things that her male colleague did and had her career destroyed, Rachel Maddow will continue to make $10 million a year for NBC because she’s their most valuable brand, and there will be no reckoning and consequences for this story that the media got radically, fundamentally and deliberately wrong for almost three years now in a very dangerous way.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, you notice Glenn doesn’t dispute what are established facts. We know that the Russians offered to help the Trump campaign. We have the emails proving that. And we know that Don Jr. was not interviewed. We know, as a matter of fact, unless the Russians fabricated the cable, in which case you would have expected denials from the Trump camp, that Jared Kushner sought to use the communications gear of the Russian diplomats and that they put their cable on this out in a way knowing it would be intercepted. We know, and Glenn certainly wouldn’t dispute, that the Russians tried to interfere in our election.
Now, all of these facts are fundamental to what matters here. And the issue that matters is this began as a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. And I don’t think [William] Barr has completely, as Glenn suggested, distorted what was said here. But I think his four-page summary doesn’t give us the full picture. After all, he quoted—the only place he quoted the Mueller report was that it did not exonerate Donald Trump on the issue of obstruction of justice. We need to see the report. And we can’t draw the kind of conclusions that Glenn is drawing without actually seeing the document. There’s a lot of gray area here. And the standard for the conduct of the president is not the standard of criminal liability.
And just one other point, let’s remember that Donald Trump, who studied at the foot of Roy Cohn, as a young man, beat four grand jury investigations. He escaped scrutiny for his role in the international drug trafficking of Joseph Weichselbaum, whom he wrote a letter saying he was a standup guy who shouldn’t be punished, and engaged in behavior that made no sense unless the two of them were in the business together, that Trump has a long and thoroughly documented history of lying, of filing false reports, of cheating on his taxes, having been tried twice for income tax fraud and lost both of those cases—they were civil cases, but lost both. So, I don’t think you can draw the conclusions Glenn has drawn without seeing the Mueller report in full.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, let me ask, I mean, you have been exposing Donald Trump for decades—not around the issue of collusion with Russia. Is it possible that what Donald Trump is guilty of is corruption, not collusion? I don’t think Glenn Greenwald is saying that Donald Trump is innocent in all areas, but he is saying, of this investigation, of these charges, he is.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I personally have never once said or suggested that this is a criminal issue that should be treated as a criminal matter. I mean, I disagree with the Justice Department’s two Office of Legal Counsel memoranda, as do a lot of people who study and write about and, like I do, teach our Constitution. But that’s the broader issue here. What was the level of conduct? We know that Donald Trump invited the Russians to interfere in our election. So what did Mueller find? Let’s understand what he found. That it didn’t rise to the level of a crime, I just don’t think is that significant. I want to know what they found. And one of the key questions I want to know is: Did Don Jr., did Jared Kushner, and did Donald Trump’s lawyers say that if questioned, they would take the Fifth Amendment? Now, we all have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate ourselves, but it would be untenable for a sitting president of the United States to take the Fifth Amendment. He would be a unique case in that matter, he and the vice president, if the Fifth Amendment was put forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, let me just say a couple of things. First of all, prior to Bob Mueller’s appointment, I was calling for a full-scale investigation in which all of the facts at the conclusion of the investigation would be publicly revealed, so that we would stop having to rely on media leaks that the CIA and the NSA and the FBI were engineering and manipulating and lying to us, as we now know, so that we could see the full picture. So I continue to believe that we should see the full Mueller report. I support that completely.
Secondly, let me say, as well, that I believe that Donald Trump is one of the most corrupt people ever to occupy the White House. I am certain that he’s guilty of all kinds of crimes—war crimes as president, financial crimes as a business person. One of the reason why those of us who were so angry about this obsession on Russia and collusion, aside from the fact that it was so dangerous to ratchet up tensions between two nuclear-armed powers this way instead of trying to forge a peace between these two countries, is precisely because it took the oxygen away from all of the things that the Trump administration is doing that is so damaging, in lieu of this idiotic, moronic, Tom Clancy-type espionage thriller, where we were talking about Putin blackmailing Donald Trump with pee-pee tapes and Donald Trump being a Russian agent since 1987, which was a cover story that was on New York magazine, that Chris Hayes put on MSNBC. Just all kinds of moronic conspiracies, that we love to mock other countries’ medias for circulating and disseminating, drowned out our airwaves and our discourse for three years, preventing us from focusing on the real, substantive damage that the Trump administration is doing and that Donald Trump’s corruption entails.
But the reality is, the media chose to focus on this. Everybody knows this. David Cay Johnston was on your show, Amy, a week ago, and he said, “Donald Trump, I believe, is a Russian agent.” We now have a full-scale, 20-month investigation by somebody that everybody agreed was a man of great integrity who would get to the bottom of all of this, who had full subpoena power. And David keeps trying to imply, which is totally false, that all that Mueller said was, “Oh, it just doesn’t rise to the level of criminality.” That is not what he said. He said, after 20 months of a full-scale investigation—which, by the way, included hours of interrogating Donald Trump Jr. before Congress, all of the transcripts of which were made available to Mueller, which he could have prosecuted Trump Jr. on for perjury and obstruction had Donald Trump Jr. lied about anything, but he chose not to. He said, “After reviewing all of this evidence, I am concluding that this did not happen,” not that it doesn’t rise to the level where I can criminally prosecute. He’s saying there was no collusion.
The game is over, and it’s time to be honest about it. And the more we try to cling to this and invent new—you know what it reminds me of? In 2003, when the neocons finally had to face the truth that there were no WMDs, that they had fabricated that, that the media had misled millions of people around the world for years, and they started saying, “Um, maybe Saddam hid them in Syria. Maybe they’re buried in places we just haven’t looked yet.” It’s time to face the truth. The media got this story wrong. They obsessed on this for three years, and all this time there was no evidence for it. It was just a conspiracy theory. Rachel Maddow, the most influential liberal TV host in the country, every single night misled millions of liberals into believing something that was totally false, and there will be no media consequences for it. And that is extremely grave and serious, no matter how much is true about how corrupt Donald Trump is in his financial dealings or any of the other stuff that people are now trying to deflect our attention onto.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, I want to ask you to imagine for a moment if this investigation didn’t happen for the last three years, or whether it did but the press didn’t pay it much attention until Mueller came up with his results, as he has now, what the press could have been doing. You alluded to it in the last answer, dealing with issues. For example, we’re moving into the 2020 presidential election now. Coming out of the defeat of Hillary Clinton, what could the media have done, if it wasn’t saying it was simply stolen from her, but exactly what the policies the Democrats were representing that might have led to her defeat?
GLENN GREENWALD: Right, that’s the question. Why did millions of people vote for a complete joke of a game show host? And how did the Democrats lose the presidency to one of the most embarrassing spectacles of a candidate in U.S. history? What is the prevailing ideology of the ruling class that has turned millions and millions of people, and to this country, into such angry citizens that they either refuse to vote or vote for the person who promises to burn down the entire system? Why are they so angry? What has happened to their economic security? What ideology and what group of people are responsible for that? What has Donald Trump been doing in realigning the United States away from the Western Europe and to Saudi despots, and the collusion that actually happened, which was from the Israeli government during the election in order to undermine Obama’s policies? All those kinds of questions could have been asked and should have been asked, but it all got drowned out because we were all so much more fascinated by this superficial, kind of very appealing and melodramatic espionage thriller, that has completely destroyed the credibility of the U.S. media and so tragically vindicated Donald Trump in a way that probably is the greatest gift that has been given to him throughout his entire presidency.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, you’ve continually raised over the last years of the Trump administration, and the decades before, the corruption of Donald Trump. Aren’t you concerned now, now that he has been, in his own words, exonerated, although Mueller didn’t exactly say that when it came to obstruction of justice, but when it came to collusion, he absolutely exonerated him—yes, we haven’t seen the underlying report—that the issues you have raised for decades, you won’t be able to be taken seriously about them, because Donald Trump will move forward with new moral force, because he says he has been victimized for the last few years, since he became president, by this investigation by a man he claimed to have hated, who ultimately vindicated him?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, indeed, Amy, you know, and I suspect Glenn has not read my books. My trilogy on the American economy, that you had me on when it came out—Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch and The Fine Print—explains why a man like Donald Trump could rise. Because of government policies nobody knew about, until I spent years digging them out of the public record, showed how we are picking the pockets of ordinary Americans and transferring money upward to other people. And even people that don’t understand that know that their economics today are worse than they were in the 1960s. So I was in the vanguard of explaining those things.
My two books on Donald Trump say almost nothing about Russia. And in particular, the most recent book is about what Donald Trump is doing to our government. And what is DCReport, the little news organization that friends and I run as a mostly volunteer project? It is about what he’s doing to our government. We’ve done very little reporting about the Russians, other than things like Wilbur Ross’s deep involvement with the corrupt Bank of Cyprus, which is well known for Russian money laundering. Other than that, it’s been about what’s the Interior Department doing, what are other government agencies doing.
So, Glenn’s complaints, well, you know, arguably have good merit; they don’t apply to me by any stretch. And I’ve never said that Donald Trump is an agent. I said he’s an asset. If I did say “agent,” I should not have. But I’ve said repeatedly he is what the old Soviet would call a “useful idiot.” He has advanced their cause. He called, during the campaign, for breaking up NATO. That’s a Putin item. He has said he trusts Vladimir Putin and not the American intelligence agencies. Those should all be things that deeply disturb us. And if the Mueller report, when we see it, shows that this is all malarkey, have me on, and I’ll say, “You know what? Got it totally wrong,” because I go wherever the facts go. But I don’t think the news media in this country has been totally discredited. And I notice that Glenn’s focus is on one cable TV show. By the way, I think I’ve been on once since Donald Trump’s election, on Rachel Maddow, when I got the tax return of Donald Trump from 2005. I don’t appear on her show otherwise.
And so, I think, fundamentally, we do need to focus on the real economic issues. Donald Trump wants to make healthcare in America worse. He has not fulfilled any of his promises. There’s no infrastructure bill. There is this focus on the wall with Mexico, which is never going to be built, and certainly not paid for by the Mexicans. He has stirred violence against people of color and people whose religions he doesn’t like. And he is utterly and completely unfit to hold office. He is, in the classic meaning of the Greek word, an “idiot,” which originally meant someone who only cares about himself and has no regard for the society around him.
AMY GOODMAN: David, yeah, on this show last week, you did say “Russian agent,” that Donald Trump is a Russian agent.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying you misspoke?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: I should have said “asset.” That’s a misstatement by me. And “asset” is the term that I’ve used. And I do believe that, you know, you can unwittingly be an asset, and I believe that Donald Trump is a Russian asset. I think the kindest thing you can say about Donald Trump is that he has divided loyalties between the United States of America and the Kremlin, based on his own public statements, his secret meetings with Vladimir Putin, his destruction of notes and not taking other people with him to those meetings—that the kindest thing you can say is he has divided loyalties. And that alone makes him unfit under our Constitution, because it means he cannot and is not faithfully executing his office.
AMY GOODMAN: To be exact, You said “Kremlin agent,” but you’re saying you should have said “Kremlin asset”?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So, data from the TV News Archive show, on average, every day in 2018, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC devoted 3 percent of their news coverage, not counting commercials and non-news programming, to the Robert Mueller investigation. Upon hindsight, David Cay Johnston, do you think that the corporate media was wrong and should have focused on some of the issues that Glenn Greenwald has just laid out?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I mean, absolutely. I think we should have focused much more on Donald Trump’s not fulfilling his promises. I will tell you there’s clearly a limited audience for that. I mean, we are covering governance at DCReport. We have broken, on a budget of $5,000 or $6,000 a month, about 20 stories that other people have picked up on about what’s being done to our government. But our audience, compared to all the other places, we’re little tiny pipsqueaks down here. It’s unfortunate, but most Americans not only don’t know what’s in their Constitution, but they also really don’t care about governance. They do care about pocketbook issues. And the influence Trump is having on healthcare, the expansion of pollution, the coziness with oil companies and uranium mining companies, the damage to our forests and national parks, that should all be big news. You know, there was almost no reporting about what I thought was one of the most delicious scandals of this year: When all the national parks and monuments were shut down during the government shutdown, one place remained open with a ranger. That’s the clock tower atop the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. It was exempted. Nothing better illustrates Donald Trump’s complete corruption and abuse of power.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that both Congress and also the other investigatory bodies, like the New York attorney general, Southern District in New York, etc., are going to continue investigating him, now that, you know, he’s saying he has been victimized, since he became president, on charges that were found to be completely unfounded?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I think that the Congress is going to continue to press for answers and a full—to see the full Mueller report. There are all sorts of other issues beyond this that need to be thoroughly investigated. And we’ve been in the forefront, and I have, in my writings and TV appearances, of pressing that we need to be understanding what Trump is doing to corrupt our government and damage our Constitution. So, yes, I expect those to go forward.
And we need to also remember that Donald Trump is a man whose experience, right within the period since the campaign, shows that crime pays. He ripped off people with Trump University for $40 million. He didn’t pay any penalty. He only had to return $25 million of the $40 million. You know, Donald Trump’s life experience is crime pays. He’s the only—he owned the only casino in which there is a known case of cheating customers in Atlantic City, was at Trump’s Castle. And so, you know, we need to recognize we have a man in the White House who is a third-generation head of a white-collar crime family.
But I also think, firmly, that we need to understand his relationship and his attitudes and his treatment regarding the Kremlin, which is a hostile foreign power that was attacking our elections. Mueller’s report, as explained by Bill Barr, says they were attacking our election. And Donald Trump encouraged that attack. That should disturb us deeply.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, before we go to break and then come back, respond to what David Cay Johnston said and also this alert from FAIR, more than a year—from July of last year. They put out an alert stating, ”ACTION ALERT: It’s Been Over a Year Since MSNBC Has Mentioned US War in Yemen.”
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, that’s the tragedy of everything that just happened. I mean, David and I have known each other for many years. We have respect for each other’s work. I mean, I’ll be presumptive enough to say that. I certainly have respect for his. And part of the reason why I find this whole thing so tragic is because all of the things he just named, that do deserve attention and investigation, have received none, because completely drowning out all of that has been this utter fairy tale.
But let me just say one thing about this idea that he’s a Kremlin asset or that we need to find out what his relationship is with the Russians. We just had a 22-month investigation where the media and Bob Mueller did nothing but look into that exact question. He’s saying it like nobody’s ever asked this before or nobody’s ever—we have the answer. And as for him being a Russian asset, it’s so irresponsible to say that, because the reality is that the conflict between the U.S. and the Russians are at a worse and higher level than they’ve been in many years, probably decades.
How can you say Donald Trump is a stooge of the Kremlin when he’s right now trying to remove one of Vladimir Putin’s client regime states in Venezuela? Or when he’s trying to bully Angela Merkel out of buying Russian natural gas, probably the thing that’s most important to the Russian economy? Or when he sold lethal arms to the Ukrainians, something Obama refused to do on the grounds that it would be provocative to Russia? Or when he bombed Putin’s client state in Syria? Over and over, the Trump administration has taken actions far more adverse and aggressive and belligerent to the Russians than the Obama administration did. That’s why this whole narrative that Trump all along was being blackmailed by Putin, that he’s an asset of Russian intelligence, this is idiocy. It is completely irrational. It is contrary to all facts.
And Bob Mueller’s investigation, who spent 22 months examining that core question—what is the relationship between Trump and the Russians?—concluded that there is no relationship. It’s time to stop these dangerous conspiracy theories that are ratcheting up tensions between the two most dangerous countries on the planet. The reality is, the Trump administration has been constantly belligerent to Putin, has constantly acted adverse to the Kremlin’s interests, and there’s zero basis for thinking or believing or finding evidence to assert that Trump in any way is beholden to Vladimir Putin and to Russia. The whole thing has been a joke and a fairy tale from the start.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, founding editor of The Intercept. David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, formerly with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined by two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, Glenn Greenwald and David Cay Johnston, as we look at the results of the 22-month investigation by special counsel Mueller. I want to continue, as we discuss the Mueller report, to turn to Noam Chomsky, when he appeared on Democracy Now! last August.
NOAM CHOMSKY: So, take, say, the huge issue of interference in our pristine elections. Did the Russians interfere in our elections? An issue of overwhelming concern in the media. I mean, in most of the world, that’s almost a joke. First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support. Israeli intervention in U.S. elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies—what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s MIT professor emeritus Noam Chomsky, world-renowned linguist, a well-known dissident, is a writer of over a hundred books. Glenn Greenwald, can you respond?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, that’s been the other critical point this entire time, is this kind of melodrama over the outrage that any country would dare to interfere in our sacred and glorious democracy, when, as Noam Chomsky just pointed out and has spent the last 40 years pointing out, the United States has done very little since the end of World War II but going around the world and interfering in every single democracy that they can find, literally, including the country in which I’m currently living, which is Brazil, where they overthrew a democratically elected government in 1964 and then proceeded to impose a military regime for 21 years, and also Russia, where they openly boasted about helping to elect Boris Yeltsin because he would privatize everything and that would be good for U.S. industry, or even agitating anti-Putin resistance in parliamentary elections under Hillary Clinton’s reign as secretary of state.
This doesn’t make it right for Russia to do it, but we’ve never kept in perspective the fact that interfering or meddling in other countries’ elections or governance is not some grave, aberrational, never-before-heard drama that the entire world has to stop and lament and put an end to. It’s normal business. We’re currently, right now, in the process of trying to change the government of Venezuela openly, and have done so over and over around the world. And that’s why Noam Chomsky says that all of this moral outrage of Americans at the idea that somebody would interfere in or meddle in our democracy has made the U.S. a laughingstock to the hundreds of millions of people—billions, in fact—who live in countries where the U.S. has done this and far, far worse for decade after decade after decade.
AMY GOODMAN: And, David Cay Johnston, your response?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, we live in a world in which governments interfere in the elections of other governments. And the U.S. has had dirty hands about this. Heck, I think I wrote a few stories that touched on this in the '60s, when I was covering local government in the San Francisco Bay Area but also student demonstrations. There's no question that we have overthrown regimes and put in place terrible dictators. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be outraged—and we should be—at Russian interference in our election.
Now, if Glenn had looked at my Twitter feed, he would know that a lot of people attacked him as being illegitimate and I defended him. We disagree, but I think we have honest disagreements about what matters here. Glenn sees the Russia matters as very black and white. He says there’s no evidence, for example. In fact, I see them as what I believe they are: very gray.
We have lots of evidence of extraordinary conduct. Russia, if you’re listening, love it when the Kremlin offers help. The request to use communications gear, the discrediting of American intelligence agencies while accepting Vladimir Putin at his word, and meeting him with no other staff around and destroying the translator’s notes, or meeting with no American translator, and the disclosure in the Oval Office of sources and methods to the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador, which we learned about only because of the Russians, not the White House—all of that is extraordinary behavior that is unlike any former president. And so, we should be very concerned about that. And we do not know enough to understand how this could happen. Just imagine for a moment if a Barack Obama had done some of the things that Donald Trump has done, what the reaction in Congress would be.
And I also think the proper measure here is not Barack Obama’s foreign policy, but what Hillary Clinton made clear she would have done if she had become president. I don’t think she would have been a particularly great president, but she made it very clear that, short of going to war, she was going to squeeze the Kremlin until they gave up Crimea. Putin understood this perfectly. And so, while he didn’t so much want Donald Trump, he certainly did not want Hillary Clinton, who would have made things economically very painful for him, and she was quite explicit about this.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, if you can quickly respond to that? But I want to end on the issue of where does this leave WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and also Chelsea Manning, who’s been held in solitary confinement since being sent back to prison on March 8th after refusing to answer questions before a grand jury. She had been subpoenaed by the federal prosecutors in Virginia’s Eastern District for questioning over her 2010 release, of WikiLeaks, of hundreds of thousands of State Department and Pentagon documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
GLENN GREENWALD: David is right that there was a big difference between Obama and Clinton when it came to foreign policy. She was very critical of Obama for not being more confrontational with Putin, for refusing to bomb Syria, for refusing to send lethal arms to Ukrainians, for working with Russia on the Iran deal. I side with President Obama. He was absolutely right that Hillary Clinton would have been extremely dangerous, because she wanted to be way more provocative and belligerent toward Russia. And I’m very glad she didn’t get that chance to do that. That would have been very dangerous for the world, although the Trump administration is doing it now.
As for Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks, the Trump administration has made no secret of the fact that they want to prosecute WikiLeaks for the crime, in their eyes, of disclosing confidential documents—one of the gravest threats we can imagine to press freedom. Chelsea Manning’s torture, being put back into solitary confinement, is trying to squeeze her to say things that aren’t true, to let them prosecute WikiLeaks. And all of the journalists who have spent three years claiming to be so worried about the threats to press freedom are utterly silent about what the Trump administration’s real threat to press freedom is, which is this attempt to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, abusing Chelsea Manning to do it, in order to criminalize journalism, which is the publication of top-secret documents that journalists do every day. And I hope that gets way more attention.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you both so much, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Glenn Greenwald and David Cay Johnston. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.