This late November, the Senate Intelligence Committee delivered a request for internal communications and documents to Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein. According to former members of Stein’s 2016 presidential campaign, the request arrived through intellience commitee chairs Sen’s Richard Burr and Mark Warner, who are seeking information for the ongoing Russiagate investigation. While the Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to make the details of its inquiry into Stein’s campaign public, Republican Sen. Richard Burr told reporter Emma Loop that he is looking for evidence of Stein’s “collusion with the Russians.”
In recent weeks, the bipartisan investigation into Russian meddling has strayed from its focus on Trump and begun targeting left-wing political figures. Last month, the House Intelligence Committee sent a subpoena to Randy Credico, a retired comedian, noted prison reform activist and local New York political gadfly, seeking information on rumors that he had served as a go-between for right-wing operative Roger Stone and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. And now, Senate investigators have trained their sights on Stein, a veteran anti-war activist and pediatrician despised by Hillary Clinton partisans, who blame her for throwing the election to Trump.
I spoke to Stein immediately after the news from BuzzFeed leaked of the Senate inquiry into her campaign. She characterized the demand for Green Party documents as clear evidence of a “new McCarthyism, which is the flip side of a military madness that is stronger than ever in this country.”
“This is the continuing focus of empire and austerity and the assault on democracy that goes with it,” she continued. “The silver lining is we will get a chance at the microphone. A lot of people will be screaming at us but some people will hear us.”
Since news broke of the congressional inquiry into Stein’s campaign, she has been a punching bag for hardcore Democrat partisans. Zac Petnacas, the former rapid response director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, proclaimed, “Jill Stein is a Russian agent” eight times in one tweet until he reached the maximum character limit.
The origins of allegations against Stein lay in the so-called Steele Dossier, a collection of unverified claims cobbled together by a former MI5 agent named Christopher Steele, who was paid by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. According to journalist Howard Blum, Steele relied on “an army of sources whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years.” Under the watch of James Comey, the FBI also made a deal to fund the dossier, but the arrangement fell apart, leaving it to the Clinton camp to funnel fees to Steele through the opposition research firm, Fusion GPS.
In addition to claiming that Putin held compromising footage of sex workers urinating on Trump on camera in a VIP suite at the Moscow Ritz, the dossier accused Stein of having been funded by the Russian government to attend a gala hosted by the Russian-backed news network, RT.
Stein told me this claim is false: “I paid my own way to Moscow. They [the Russian government] did not pay for my hotel or expenses, and I have the receipts to prove it.”
A gala dinner and collusion illusions
The RT gala was organized in November 2015 as a celebration of the international network’s 10th anniversary. Dignitaries, diplomats, politicians, media professionals, and activists from around the world gathered in Moscow for the event. I was among those invited to attend and I accepted. I wanted to interact with colleagues from around the globe and had long considered RT a valuable space in a conformist American media environment that is increasingly hostile to dissenting opinions, particularly where Western foreign policy is concerned.
During the two-day affair, I participated in a public panel discussion with former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, historian Peter Kuznick and the Christian Science Monitor’s Moscow correspondent, Fred Weir, among others. I did not have a chance to collude with any Russian officials, though I did attempt a selfie with Mikhail Gorbachev as he brushed by me in a hallway. As far as I know, the only person who received a fee to attend the RT gala was former Gen. Michael Flynn, who was previously unknown to guests and was referred to dismissively as the “Obama general.” Flynn’s one-on-one with RT host Sophie Shevardzadze went over poorly; he was regarded as inarticulate and uninformed by a range of audience members I spoke to (I did not attend).
The event culminated with a catered dinner featuring live music and a video mash-up of RT’s greatest hits over the years. I spent much of the time at a table chatting with former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura and his family, and Lee Camp, a left-wing political comedian who hosts the popular RT program, “Redacted Tonight.” None of us had any inkling that the festivities would come to be seen as a de facto crime scene by packs of Beltway reporters and congressional investigators. It would be months before Flynn emerged as a wild-eyed Trump surrogate and a full year before the Russiagate narrative was spun out of the ashes of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
At a table immediately in front of the stage, Stein was seated beside Willy Wimmer, the former foreign minister of Germany. Also at the table was Czech former Deputy Prime Minister Cyril Svoboda, a Russian filmmaker named Emir Kustursca and Flynn. Stein said her only substantive conversation was with Wimmer, and it lasted about two minutes. In the middle of the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin strode into the room alongside his chief of staff and spokesman. They briefly seated themselves at the dignitaries’ table before Putin appeared on stage for a few remarks, then shuffled toward the exit.
I asked Stein what took place when Putin arrived at her table. “Putin briefly ran around the table and shook everyone’s hand. No names were exchanged, it was an impersonal greeting,” she recalled. “There was nothing about that table that facilitated any communication of any sorts. The one person there who spoke English and Russian fluently was sitting next to Michael Flynn and translated what he said was the conversation between Flynn and Putin. It amounted to something to the effect of, ‘How are you? I’m fine.'”
Stein told me she had requested a moment with Putin or Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss US-Russian cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and de-escalating the conflict in Syria. “Hillary Clinton was promoting a no-fly zone in Syria, which would have put us in the position of shooting down Russian planes when we have 2,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. So communication with your adversaries was important and we were in a crisis at the time. Our [Green Party] communications were exemplary,” she asserted. “They were content-focused, not about quid pro quo or any backroom deals. They were on target and in the words of JFK, I believe we should never negotiate out of fear, and never fear to negotiate.”
In the end, Stein was able to meet only with the foreign affairs chair of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. A statement posted on Stein’s campaign website outlined her agenda for the meeting: “a new commitment to collaborative dialogue between our governments to avert disastrous wars for geopolitical domination, destruction of the climate, and cascading injustices that promote violence and terrorism.”
Stein’s visit to Moscow was part of a wider itinerary that brought her in contact with like-minded political figures across the Atlantic. She had just visited Paris, where she participated in a conference on climate change and rubbed shoulders with Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of the UK Labour Party. “Corbyn had pretty much the same stance on the need for a peace offensive in the Middle East, a weapons embargo in the region, the dangers of a no-fly zone in Syria and on the need for nuclear non proliferation,” she recalled. “These aren’t fringe ideas and most of the world sees them as absolutely critical.”
Picture of a pseudo-scandal
In the weeks after Hillary Clinton’s election loss, a photograph of Stein seated at the table with Putin and Flynn began making the rounds. For many frustrated Democrats, the image was clear evidence of a nefarious conspiracy between a fringe third-party candidate, a Trump aide and Putin to deprive Hillary of her historic destiny. In their minds, Stein was not just a spoiler, but a spy.
“The fact that they got a photo out of this allowed them to launch a baseless smear campaign,” Stein said. “And they distorted the event itself. It was practically a who’s who of the peace community on hand.”
In July, Stein’s name was added to a Senate Judiciary Committee letter demanding communications between Donald Trump Jr., Russian officials and members of Trump’s presidential campaign. There was no indication that Stein had ever interacted with Trump Jr., and she denounced the letter as “an obvious smear designed to generate a fake news feeding frenzy.”
So far, no material has turned up to validate the committee’s unusual line of inquiry. In the face of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request, Stein pledged cooperation. “We intend to provide any documents that are relevant,” she maintained, “but we had very little communications with Russia other than through RT for our appearances and limited logistics around the RT conference.”
But in the frenetic atmosphere of Russiagate, even Stein’s interviews with RT America have become grounds for suspicion. An error-laden report released by the Director of National Intelligence this January cast RT as a key aspect of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Among the transgressions the DNI accused RT of committing was hosting a third-party debate that gave a platform to candidates like Stein. The report also complained that RT was guilty of promoting “radical discontent.”
Despite the storm of accusations, Stein remains confident that her name will eventually be cleared. “Real people are not buying this effort to demonize us and [the investigation has] lost the thread. There is simply no there there,” she stated. “But there will be a lot of damage done before it comes out on the other end.”
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