The former Green Party candidate calls the inquiry evidence of a "new McCarthyism."
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 intelligence committee 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.