If you imagine “L’Affaire Russe” as a movie pitch, it would promise to tell three intertwining stories. In the first thread, Russian hackers use the simplest of phishing techniques against clueless Democratic muckety-mucks to tap into a bunch of Democratic Party emails, exposing not state secrets but a bunch of squalid intraparty backbiting.
In the second thread, the dolts and self-promoters surrounding a buffoonish presidential candidate try to make contact with the Russians, something the Russians don’t particularly want and the dolts are too doltish to accomplish — leading to absurdist scenes like the famous Trump Tower meeting, where Don Jr. shows up expecting a big intel deal and instead gets a lecture on Russian adoptions while Jared Kushner tunes out and checks his phone.
This comedy of hapless would-be dirty tricksters then weaves into the third thread, the one the inspector general report has unspooled for us: In this part of the movie, the law-enforcement agents watching the Russian hacking unfold become convinced — with an assist from a top-secret dossier compiled by a handsome ex-spook who used to pal around with the buffoonish candidate’s daughter — that they’re investigating a vast, world-shaking conspiracy, complete with Russian intelligence assets in the Trump campaign and secret Prague meetings to set the agenda for a Manchurian candidacy. And then their investigation, which focuses on a couple of random, comic Trumpworld figures and comes up empty, gets taken up by a credulous media, which spins a narrative of noble G-men and legal eagles who are supposedly about to reveal Putin’s baroque, dating-to-the-1980s conspiracy to install a puppet in the White House, knock out our power grid and probably poison our precious bodily fluids as well.
To borrow from Oscar Wilde, it would take a heart of stone to contemplate this tale without some laughter ….
Ross Douthat Terrific column, which I must not plagiarize. #FairUse