David Corn, journalist and political commentator, delivered an impassioned and thought-provoking address at the well-attended May 3 WDC luncheon, held at the Pooks Hill Marriott. Mr. Corn is the co-author, with investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, of the best-selling book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.
Before welcoming the speaker, WDC President Fran Rothstein took to the podium to reaffirm the raison d’etre of WDC— “to elect Democrats!” She stressed the importance of defeating Governor Larry Hogan in 2018, which can only be accomplished by electing the best gubernatorial candidate with the best path to victory—a goal that has to be achieved with the help of volunteers such as the members of WDC. Each member should self-educate about the gubernatorial candidates by continuing to read and learn and by attending political events, followed by getting behind a candidate. The Maryland primary is on June 26, just weeks away. President Rothstein then elaborated on specific work in which volunteers can become involved to ensure the election of a Democratic governor, including that of getting out the vote.
Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) then introduced speaker and guest David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and MSNBC analyst. Along with Russian Roulette, Mr. Corn has authored numerous books, including three New York Times bestsellers. “He made his career by burrowing deeply into the national security state apparatus to figure out what’s really going on. How do our wars start, where do they come from, what do they leave behind them, and what’s the political machinery that we’re up against as a people?” While the people in this room are likely partisan, Mr. Corn, a great journalistic champion who identifies himself as a Progressive, struggles for Democracy itself.
Congressman Raskin called Russian Roulette a mirror of the Trump Administration, and a comprehensive look at what took place in the 2016 election and how best to make sense of it—a subject that will always be incomplete because we wake up to something new every day. Mr. Corn will have to add several postscripts to this book.
We know the kind of times we’re in, said Congressman Raskin, but he added, quoting the great Marylander Frederick Douglas, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand.” “We’re going to organize and we’re going to win in 2018!” he added.
Mr. Corn opened his talk explaining that though there was much to talk about, he would be concentrating on the information in his book and ideas related to the book. But during the Q&A, there would be time to talk about more recent occurrences and political topics.
The aim of the book was to advance the story where possible, but also provide a comprehensive narrative of how we got to the point where we are now in the Trump Russian scandal. He often feels like we are being struck with “17 fire hoses a day.” New revelations come out every day—it’s hard to count how many scandals and revelations have come out ever since before the election. And the information comes out in bits and pieces—not chronologically, not linearly. It’s hard to keep everything straight. People get caught up in the revelations of the day, and then forget those in a few days, and move on to the next thing. There can be as many as three important stories in one day. There is a yearning for an understanding of the issues that barrage us each day—there’s a need to see the big picture so as to know how to go forward and make sense of everything that is happening.
It was this sense that led him and co-author Michael Isikoff to write the book, which makes two main points: Many people have trouble understanding what happened in the 2016 election. Mr. Corn’s belief is that what happened was quite extreme. The subtitle of the book is The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, and Mr. Corn thinks that’s exactly what happened. Putin and the Russians waged information warfare deliberately and with intent. Some years before the 2016 election, Putin was envisioning a war with the West; his goal was to undermine liberal Western democracies. He has a zero-sum view of the world at large: powers can only succeed at the disadvantage of other powers, the opposite of the idea established by most foreign policy entities—that of multilateralism. Putin has long had a game plan to weaken and divide the West. And Trump seems to have some kind of “aspirational affinity” with Putin.
The book describes the warning signs and indications that Putin wanted to use cyber warfare information or disinformation to attack the West. Russia was also able to attack the U.S. using methods such as the dumping of Hillary Clinton’s emails, as well as the social media attacks created on a troll farm and released by Internet bots, which were known about, but ignored.
The second point was the collusion with Donald Trump’s campaign, which was aware of what was going on and covered and helped with the attack. They gave the Russians permission—a “green light”—to meddle. The Russians also hacked the DNC headquarters and released DNC material. Trump denied that this ever happened and called it a “hoax,” cooked up by the DNC itself. Trump did this throughout the campaign and the debates. Basically, he let the Russians get away with what was, while not necessarily literally “collusion,” which is an elastic term, but was “aiding and abetting an attack”; it was truly an “act of betrayal.” This should have triggered an independent commission, but because of the tribal nature of U.S. politics, that never happened.
Once Mr. Corn finished his talk, there was time for what turned out to be a too-short Q&A session; a great deal of enthusiasm but too little time. The lively Q&A began with a question about banking ties and whether the Russians have information on Trump that they could use to blackmail him. There followed others, such as why the word treason isn’t used to describe Trump’s actions and what Jeff Sessions was doing in meeting with Russians when it was common knowledge that the meddling was going on. These were followed by more questions than Mr. Corn had time to address.
Prior to the wrap-up, WDC President Fran Rothstein asked what concerns Mr. Corn had as a Maryland voter about the upcoming Maryland elections. Mr. Corn answered that he has concerns about the election system as a whole. Our systems are susceptible—there are overall vulnerabilities that we need to address. The Russian know how to do this. They can take advantage of weaker states and localities that don’t have the best safeguards. “If the military intelligence of a superpower targets you, it’s not easy to keep them out.” There needs to be more awareness of the possibilities of cyber hacking at the local level as well