‘Twixt and ‘tween daily news on Russiagate (the investigation into alleged “Russian meddling” in the 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump) and Uraniumgate (the investigation into Russian bribes paid to a number of people, quite likely including Hillary Clinton, to smooth US government approvals for buying a good deal of, you guessed it, uranium) comes new information on Dossiergate (the question of who paid a British inteligence operative a trove of dirt on then presidential candidate Donald Trump).
Dossiergate first reared its ugly head during the general election campaign in 2016, then more or less disappeared for more than a year until late October. Now we’ve learned that several organizations paid Christopher Steele to get the goods on Trump. Of the three we know of, one was a Republican newspaper (the Washington Free Beacon, during the GOP primaries) and two were Democratic Party organizations (the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign).
Breathless updates notwithstanding, Dossiergate is what Democrat politico Van Jones got caught calling the Russiagate investigation: “A big nothing burger.”
All political campaigns — or at least all political campaigns worth their salt — do what’s called “opposition research.” They dig as deeply as possible (or as they can afford to) into their opponents’ political, business, and personal lives looking for dirt that can be used to win elections. The better campaigns do opposition research on their own candidates as well, because nobody likes surprises and because politicians lie, even to their friends and supporters.
If this sounds like a bad thing to you, think again. The more you know about the candidates asking for your vote, the better equipped you are to make decisions about how to cast that vote. Does it get ugly? Yes, it does. The truth isn’t always pretty, but it’s the truth and more truth is always better than less truth.
Naturally, you don’t want to just take one candidate’s word that another candidate did something bad. In addition to finding the dirt, the opposition researcher’s job is to substantiate that dirt, giving you real evidence to chew on so that you can be confident in your own conclusions.
I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton, or for that matter of Donald Trump. But she and her campaign staff would have been doing a disservice to the public as well as to themselves if they hadn’t looked for the dirt on Donald Trump, and then aired any dirt they could authenticate. To the extent that democracy works, its fuel is information. And information is opposition research’s finished product.
Dossiergate is not and never has been a scandal per se. However titillating the details, it’s merely been the story of presidential campaigns and candidates doing their jobs.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.