One of the most outspoken defenders of Syria’s dictator and Russia’s propaganda machine has announced his retirement from the Virginia State Senate.
On Monday, Dick Black announced on Facebook that he would not seek re-election to the Virginia Sate Senate, where he’s served for seven years. Black didn’t specify any particular reason for his retirement, writing only that he is “looking forward to the next chapter.”
While Black isn’t a household name, he has made a name for himself in national security circles for the past few years. He became an outspoken defender of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Russian propaganda alike, and lately took on a notable role in pushing pro-Trump conspiracy theories about former FBI official Andrew McCabe.
Black did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
In 2016, Black took a now-infamous trip to Syria, where he had a two-hour meeting with Assad. The Syrian government published photos of their handshake. In the midst of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs against civilian populations, Black announced that he didn’t believe the Assad regime “favors any sort of widespread improper conduct.”
“There was sort of a spring in [Assad’s] step and a sense of joy and optimism, and looking out to the future and bringing the nation together,” Black later said.
The visit also came after Black wrote a letter to Assad praising him for his leadership. According to Black, Assad was a “heroic” leader. (A fellow Republican joked at the time, “What’s the matter, Dick? Kim Jong Un not returning your text messages?”) Black would go on to say that the U.S. could not allow Assad to be toppled.
Black’s support for Assad has, unsurprisingly, veered wildly into conspiratorial territory. In September, for instance, Black announced that Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency was plotting a chemical weapons attack in Syria — an attack that, Black explained, London would later blame on Assad.
But Black’s thirst for conspiracy didn’t end in Syria. Instead, it made him a favorite of another font of conspiracy: Russian propaganda outlet RT, which regularly featured Black to prop up Kremlin talking points. (RT mis-identified Black as a “Virginia Senator.”)
Despite the role RT played in Russia’s 2016 interference efforts, Black had no problem making multiple appearances on the outlet in 2018. Black also claimed that the Russian propaganda outlet was “the only credible mainstream media dealing with the Syrian conflict.”
As Black said in a separate interview, Russia is “not a threat to the United States” — contrary to almost every intelligence assessment the U.S. has.
“Virginians deserve public officials who go to Richmond to improve their lives, not ones that defend murderous foreign dictators, discriminate against the LGBTQ community and attack women’s health care rights,” Democratic Party of Virginia spokesperson Jake Rubenstein told ThinkProgress. “We look forward to replacing Senator Black with a Democrat whose focus will be lifting up his or her constituents in Prince William and Loudoun Counties.”
Conspiracies and fellow-travelers
In 2015, Black successfully ran for the Virginia Senate seat against Jill McCabe. However, nearly a year after the election, the Wall Street Journal reported that McCabe’s campaign received contributions from then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s PAC, which donated $467,500 to McCabe’s campaign.
The supposed newsworthiness of the story, a few weeks before the 2016 presidential election, resulted from the fact that McCabe’s husband, FBI veteran Andrew McCabe, had been overseeing the FBI’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server — and that McAuliffe was a known associate of Clinton.
The story, however, was a non-starter, especially since Andrew McCabe began overseeing the Clinton investigation months after his wife’s campaign ended. As The Washington Post’s Norman Leahy wrote, “Was McAuliffe looking to influence an FBI investigation into one of his old friends through the triple-bank-shot strategy of giving money to an FBI official’s wife’s state Senate campaign many months before that FBI official was promoted to an oversight position in that investigation? No.”
Or as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum noted, the donation was “totally above board and perfectly kosher. And even if there were anything wrong, McAuliffe would have needed a time machine to know it.”
“Now that I can speak on my own behalf, I want people to know that the whole story that everything is based on is just false and utterly absurd,” Jill McCabe wrote in April.
But Black went out of his way to promote the talking point, even after he’d defeated Jill McCabe, and used it to smear the FBI. (Jill McCabe declined to comment for this story.)
Jill McCabe was my opponent and that $700k was against me. Fortunately, I prevailed despite the shenanigans. If you can't trust the FBI… pic.twitter.com/X4grDKJvSF
— Senator Dick Black (@SenRichardBlack) March 30, 2017
Left media ignores McCabe's conflict when he investigated Hillary's emails while wife took $700k from Hillary's pal https://t.co/NQUonYrgKy
— Senator Dick Black (@SenRichardBlack) May 10, 2017
Fortunately for Black, he soon found a vocal public figure to pick up the McCabe conspiracy theory: Donald Trump.
By mid-2017, Andrew McCabe had replaced ousted former FBI chief James Comey. Trump publicly admitted he fired Comey, at least in part, due to the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Not long afterward, Trump began parroting Black’s talking points attacking McCabe’s credibility, and he eventually fired McCabe just a day before his planned retirement from the FBI, potentially jeopardizing his retirement benefits. The Justice Department Inspector General later faulted McCabe for his handling of the Clinton email probe.
Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
But McCabe’s firing, the latest in a long line of acrimony between Trump and the FBI, wasn’t the end of McCabe’s involvement with questions about Trump and Russia. In May, the AP reported that McCabe had drafted a memo detailing the events leading up to Trump’s decision to fire Comey — a document Special Counsel Robert Mueller has since obtained.
McCabe’s memo reportedly indicates that Trump specifically mentioned the Russia investigation when discussing plans to fire Comey. McCabe also reportedly kept memos on his interactions with Trump.
As it is, with Black’s impending retirement, Trump will lose one of his most notorious allies in tarring McCabe’s reputation, and the man who helped spark one of Trump’s most popular lines of attack against the FBI. So, too, have Syria and Russia lost one of their biggest Republican defenders.