Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Has That Manchurian "President" Been A Russian Asset For Three Decades? Will Mueller Ever Tell Us?

>

Useful Idiots, Enablers by Chip Proser

I'm guessing Jonathan Chait and Glenn Greenwald are not sitting down for some blinis and caviar at the Russian Tea Room any time soon. Chait's New York magazine collusion column over the weekend, Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart-- Or His Handler, is the kind of thing that sends Trumpists-- as well as Greenwald-- into a rage. Chait wrote that when the news of the Russian hack of the DNC broke in June, 2016, "nobody raised the faintest suspicions that Russia wished to alter the outcome of the election, let alone that Trump or anybody connected with him might have been in cahoots with a foreign power. It was a third-rate cyberburglary. Nothing to see here." Since then "trying to discern the size and shape of the scandal is an exercise in uncertainty." The legitimacy of the Trumpist regime is at stake... The media," Chait asserts, "has treated the notion that Russia has personally compromised the president of the United States as something close to a kook theory" and then proposes that an "unlikely but possible" theory "that this is all much worse than we suspect," that Trump has been a Russian agent since the late '80s.
The first intimations that Trump might harbor a dark secret originated among America’s European allies, which, being situated closer to Russia, have had more experience fending off its nefarious encroachments. In 2015, Western European intelligence agencies began picking up evidence of communications between the Russian government and people in Donald Trump’s orbit. In April 2016, one of the Baltic states shared with then–CIA director John Brennan an audio recording of Russians discussing funneling money to the Trump campaign. In the summer of 2016, Robert Hannigan, head of the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, flew to Washington to brief Brennan on intercepted communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The contents of these communications have not been disclosed, but what Brennan learned obviously unsettled him profoundly. In congressional testimony on Russian election interference last year, Brennan hinted that some Americans might have betrayed their country. “Individuals who go along a treasonous path,” he warned, “do not even realize they’re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.” In an interview this year, he put it more bluntly: “I think [Trump] is afraid of the president of Russia. The Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.”

...[This theory] would mean the Russia scandal began far earlier than conventionally understood and ended later-- indeed, is still happening. As Trump arranges to meet face-to-face and privately with Vladimir Putin later this month, the collusion between the two men metastasizing from a dark accusation into an open alliance, it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.

It is often said that Donald Trump has had the same nationalistic, zero-sum worldview forever. But that isn’t exactly true. Yes, his racism and mendacity have been evident since his youth, but those who have traced the evolution of his hypernationalism all settle on one year in particular: 1987. Trump “came onto the political stage in 1987 with a full-page ad in the New York Times attacking the Japanese for relying on the United States to defend it militarily,” reported Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The president has believed for 30 years that these alliance commitments are a drain on our finite national treasure,” a White House official told the Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin. Tom Wright, another scholar who has delved into Trump’s history, reached the same conclusion. “1987 is Trump’s breakout year. There are only a couple of examples of him commenting on world politics before then.”

What changed that year? One possible explanation is that Trump published The Art of the Deal, which sped up his transformation from an aggressive, publicity-seeking New York developer to a national symbol of capitalism. But the timing for this account does not line up perfectly-- the book came out on November 1, and Trump had begun opining loudly on trade and international politics two months earlier. The other important event from that year is that Trump visited Moscow.

During the Soviet era, Russian intelligence cast a wide net to gain leverage over influential figures abroad. (The practice continues to this day.) The Russians would lure or entrap not only prominent politicians and cultural leaders, but also people whom they saw as having the potential for gaining prominence in the future. In 1986, Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin met Trump in New York, flattered him with praise for his building exploits, and invited him to discuss a building in Moscow. Trump visited Moscow in July 1987. He stayed at the National Hotel, in the Lenin Suite, which certainly would have been bugged. There is not much else in the public record to describe his visit, except Trump’s own recollection in The Art of the Deal that Soviet officials were eager for him to build a hotel there. (It never happened.)

Trump returned from Moscow fired up with political ambition. He began the first of a long series of presidential flirtations, which included a flashy trip to New Hampshire. Two months after his Moscow visit, Trump spent almost $100,000 on a series of full-page newspaper ads that published a political manifesto. “An open letter from Donald J. Trump on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves,” as Trump labeled it, launched angry populist charges against the allies that benefited from the umbrella of American military protection. “Why are these nations not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests?”

Trump’s letter avoided the question of whom the U.S. was protecting those countries from. The primary answer, of course, was the Soviet Union. After World War II, the U.S. had created a liberal international order and underwritten its safety by maintaining the world’s strongest military. A central goal of Soviet, and later Russian, foreign policy was to split the U.S. from its allies.

The safest assumption is that it’s entirely coincidental that Trump launched a national campaign, with himself as spokesman, built around themes that dovetailed closely with Soviet foreign-policy goals shortly after his Moscow stay. Indeed, it seems slightly insane to contemplate the possibility that a secret relationship between Trump and Russia dates back this far. But it can’t be dismissed completely. How do you even think about the small but real chance-- 10 percent? 20 percent?-- that the president of the United States has been covertly influenced or personally compromised by a hostile foreign power for decades?

Russian intelligence gains influence in foreign countries by operating subtly and patiently. It exerts different gradations of leverage over different kinds of people, and uses a basic tool kit of blackmail that involves the exploitation of greed, stupidity, ego, and sexual appetite. All of which are traits Trump has in abundance.



Throughout his career, Trump has always felt comfortable operating at or beyond the ethical boundaries that constrain typical businesses. In the 1980s, he worked with La Cosa Nostra, which controlled the New York cement trade, and later employed Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, both of whom have links to the Russian Mafia. Trump habitually refused to pay his counterparties, and if the people he burned (or any journalists) got in his way, he bullied them with threats. Trump also reportedly circulated at parties for wealthy men featuring cocaine and underage girls.

One might think this notoriety immunizes Trump from blackmail. Curiously, however, Trump’s tolerance for risk has always been matched by careful control over information. He maintains a fanatical secrecy about his finances and has paid out numerous settlements to silence women. The combination of a penchant for compromising behavior, a willingness to work closely with criminals, and a desire to protect aspects of his privacy makes him the ideal blackmail target.

It is not difficult to imagine that Russia quickly had something on Trump, from either exploits during his 1987 visit or any subsequent embarrassing behavior KGB assets might have uncovered. But the other leverage Russia enjoyed over Trump for at least 15 years is indisputable-- in fact, his family has admitted to it multiple times. After a series of financial reversals and his brazen abuse of bankruptcy laws, Trump found it impossible to borrow from American banks and grew heavily reliant on unconventional sources of capital. Russian cash proved his salvation. From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases-- a red flag of potential money laundering-- of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” said Donald Jr. in 2008. “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,” boasted Eric Trump in 2014.

Since Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, rose to power in 1999, money has become a key source of Russian political leverage. The Russian state (and hence Putin) controls the most lucrative sectors of its economy, and Russian investment is not designed solely to maximize return. Shady business transactions offer the perfect cover for covert payments, since just about the entire Russian economy is shady. Trump’s adamant refusal to disclose his tax returns has many possible explanations, but none is more obvious than the prospect that he is hiding what are effectively bribes.

During the Obama administration, Russia grew more estranged from the United States as its aggressive behavior toward its neighbors triggered hostile responses from NATO. Putin grew increasingly enamored of reactionary social theories portraying traditional, conservative, Christian Europe as pitted in a civilizational struggle against both decadent liberalism and radical Islam. Also during this time, Trump carved out a brand as a populist hero of the right by publicly questioning Obama’s birthplace and legitimacy.

In July 2013, Trump visited Moscow again. If the Russians did not have a back-channel relationship or compromising file on Trump 30 years ago, they very likely obtained one then. Former FBI director James Comey recounts in his book that Trump was obsessed with reports that he had been recorded in a hotel room watching prostitutes urinate on a bed that Barack Obama had once slept in. Trump, Comey wrote, “argued that it could not be true because he had not stayed overnight in Moscow but had only used the hotel room to change his clothes.” The journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reconstructed Trump’s trip to Moscow and established that he did in fact stay overnight.

This was not the only allegation Trump forcefully and implausibly denied in his early meetings with Comey. He also denied that he had offered a pornographic-film star money to come to his room, grabbed a woman sitting next to him on an airplane, and mocked a disabled reporter at a rally. The other denials have gained no credence in the media. (Indeed, the last incident was broadcast on national television.) But Trump’s dismissal of the Moscow-hotel-room allegation has been given the benefit of the doubt by most reporters, who typically describe the charge as “salacious” and “unverified,” which it most certainly is, and treat that to mean “absurd,” which it is not. There is growing reason to think the pee tape might indeed exist.

There has never been much doubt about Russia’s motive to engineer a caper like this. Russian intelligence has a documented and long-standing practice of gathering compromising intelligence on visiting dignitaries. The use of prostitutes and the bugging of hotel rooms are standard. The skepticism has instead focused on both the source of the allegations, former British-intelligence official turned private investigator Christopher Steele, and Trump himself.

Steele’s dossier burst into public view in January 2017, introducing so many astonishing claims into the public domain that it read like politicized fiction, a modern-day Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “There has been no public corroboration of the salacious allegations against Mr. Trump, nor of the specific claims about coordination between his associates and the Russians,” the Times stated authoritatively last fall. “In fact, some of those claims have been challenged with supporting evidence. For instance, Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, produced his passport to rebut the dossier’s claim that he had secret meetings in Prague with a Russian official last year.”

The truth is that much of the reporting of the Russia scandal over the past 18 months has followed the contours of what Steele’s sources told him. Steele reported that “the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” in June 2016, days after the Trump Tower meeting occurred but a year before it would be publicly confirmed. Steele obtained early news of the Kremlin’s strategy to exploit divides within the Democratic Party through social media; the role of Carter Page, a member of Trump’s foreign-policy team whom Russia had been trying to cultivate as a spy since at least 2013; and other now-familiar elements of the story.

Even the accusations in the dossier that have purportedly been refuted have gained support from law enforcement. Mueller has reportedly obtained evidence that Cohen actually did visit Prague during the 2016 campaign, contrary to his denials. The FBI has learned that Cohen “was in frequent contact with foreign individuals” who “had knowledge of or played a role in 2016 election meddling,” according to BuzzFeed News.

Then there is Trump himself. While the president’s character has never been exactly deemed above reproach, some doubts have lingered about whether he would really hire prostitutes to defile a bed merely because Obama had slept there and whether a tape of such a thing would truly shame him.

These questions have been answered in the affirmative. Trump’s payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels and other women proves that he holds his sexual privacy dear. And the obsessive hatred of Obama that grew out of Trump’s humiliation at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner has blossomed into a perverse and often self-destructive mania. People both inside and outside the administration report that Trump will ultimately pick whatever option he believes is the negation of Obama’s legacy. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t,’” a European diplomat told BuzzFeed News.

Isikoff and Corn reported that Trump and many of the people who accompanied him on the 2013 trip to Moscow had, earlier that year, visited a club in Las Vegas that regularly performed “simulated sex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism,” including shows in which strippers simulated urinating. Isikoff and Corn do not establish what kind of performance was on display the night Trump visited. It may or may not have involved bodily fluids. But the notion that a display of exotic sex acts lies totally outside the range of behavior Trump would enjoy is quaint and unfounded.

It’s not necessary to believe that Putin always knew he might install Trump in the Oval Office to find the following situation highly plausible: Sometime in 2015, the Russian president recognized that he had, in one of his unknown number of intelligence files, an inroad into American presidential politics. The Republican nominees from 2008 and 2012 had both run on a hawkish position against Russia (Mitt Romney had called the country America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe”). Now, on the fringes of the GOP primaries, there was a candidate opening up what was, from Putin’s standpoint, a much-needed flank against not just Obama but his former secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her aggressive position against Russia.

Trump praised Putin’s toughness and called for a thaw in relations between the two countries. At first, Putin likely considered him simply a way to goad his American foes. Then Trump captured the nomination and his value increased exponentially.

At that point, it would have been strange if Russia didn’t help Trump. After all, Russians covertly support allied politicians abroad all the time. Putin naturally sees intelligence work as central to foreign policy, and his foreign policy is fundamentally threatened by democratic, socially progressive Western Europe. During his tenure, Russia has formed overt or covert ties to right-wing parties in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece, and Bulgaria. France’s right-wing party received an $11 million loan from Russia; its counterparts in Bulgaria and Greece were alleged (but not proved) to have taken funding under the table, too. More often, Russians intermingle financial dealings with political subterfuge in a complex web that appears superficially legitimate.


...For all the ambiguous, suspicious facts surrounding Trump’s ties to Russia, Manafort’s role is the most straightforward. He is an utterly amoral consultant and spent at least a decade directly advancing Russian foreign-policy interests while engaging in systemic corruption.

The story begins in 2005, when Manafort proposed to work for billionaire Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska. Manafort, a Republican operative who had hired himself out to a variety of global villains, promised he would “influence politics, business dealings, and news coverage inside the United States, Europe, and former Soviet Republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government” in a memo described by the Associated Press.

Russia’s oligarchs put their wealth and power at Putin’s disposal, or they don’t remain oligarchs for long. This requirement is not lost on Deripaska. “I don’t separate myself from the state,” Deripaska told the Financial Times in 2007. “I have no other interests.” A 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable described him as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis.” Working for Deripaska meant working for Putin.

There’s no doubt Manafort’s offer was taken up. Deripaska hired Manafort for $10 million a year, and Manafort worked to advance Russian interests in Ukraine, Georgia, and Montenegro. Manafort brought on as his business partner in these endeavors Konstantin Kilimnik, a former member of Russia’s foreign military-intelligence agency who-- according to an indictment by Mueller — still has ties to Russian intelligence.

The mystery is exactly when, or whether, Manafort’s service to Deripaska-- which is to say, to Putin-- ended. He has hidden many of his proceeds and indeed now faces charges of money laundering. In 2010, Manafort received a $10 million loan from Deripaska, which he funneled through his shell company. (Manafort had used the same shell company to buy an apartment in Trump Tower, for cash, in 2006.)

Spending lavishly and deep in debt, Manafort went underground in 2014. Deripaska, seeking to recover funds he believed Manafort owed him, went to court, where one of his lawyers stated, “It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates”-- Manafort’s longtime associate-- “have simply disappeared.” Two years later, Manafort resurfaced as Trump’s campaign manager, with Gates as his deputy, and set out to use his position to regain favor with his estranged patron. In leaked emails to Kilimnik, Manafort referred to his new standing and asked, “How do we use to get whole?” Kilimnik assured Manafort, “We will get back to the original relationship.” That is, Manafort was asking about, and Kilimnik was confirming, the possibility of trading his position as Trump’s campaign manager for debt forgiveness from Deripaska.

This much was clear in March 2016: The person who managed the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in Ukraine was now also managing the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in the United States. And Trump’s campaign certainly looked like the same play Putin had run many times before: Trump inflamed internal ethnic division, assailed the corruption of the elite, attacked Western allies while calling for cooperation with Russia, and sowed distrust in the fairness of the vote count. And in addition to deploying social-media bots and trolls, Russia apparently spent directly to help elect Trump. The FBI is investigating Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker who built ties to Republicans and allegedly funneled campaign funds to the National Rifle Association, which spent three times as much to help Trump as it had on behalf of Romney four years earlier.

Trump surrounded himself with several staffers, in addition to Manafort, with unusually close ties to Russia. His national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, had traveled to Moscow in 2015 to fête Putin at a banquet; George Papadopoulos met with Russian officials during the campaign; Russia had marked Carter Page as a possible asset. Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, the two business associates of Trump’s with decades-long ties to Russian organized crime, engaged in a mix of diplomatic and commercial negotiations with Russia during the campaign.


Several Trump advisers knew Russia was working to help Trump. Papadopoulos let it slip that Russia had dirt on Clinton; Roger Stone, a former longtime business partner of Manafort’s who communicated regularly with Trump throughout the campaign, knew what material WikiLeaks had obtained, according to two associates. Stone also repeatedly boasted of his back-channel contacts to Julian Assange and flaunted advance knowledge of what dirt Assange had. Between a pair of phone conversations Donald Jr. had to set up his Trump Tower meeting, he spoke with someone with a blocked phone number. (His father has a blocked phone number.) John K. Mashburn, a former campaign and current White House staffer, testified in March that he recalled receiving an email in early 2016 that Russia had negative information on Clinton.

Russia’s hacking appears, in short, to have been common knowledge within the campaign. Despite that, Trump repeatedly denied that Russia had any involvement with the email hacking, suggesting China or a 400-pound man might be the true culprit. Trump and his advisers also made at least 20 false public denials that they had any contact with Russian officials during the campaign.

...One example of the kind Trump’s campaign may still be hiding came briefly to light two summers ago. In July 2016, a loose-knit community of computer scientists and cybersecurity experts discovered a strange pattern of online traffic between two computer servers. One of those servers belonged to Alfa Bank in Moscow and the other to the Trump Organization. Alfa Bank’s owners had “assumed an unforeseen level of prominence and influence in the economic and political affairs of their nation,” as a federal court once put it.

The analysts noted that the traffic between the two servers occurred during office hours in New York and Moscow and spiked in correspondence with major campaign events, suggesting it entailed human communication rather than bots. More suspiciously, after New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau asked Alfa Bank about it but before he brought it up with the Trump campaign, the server in Trump Tower shut down. The timing strongly implied Alfa Bank was communicating with Trump.

In October, Slate’s Franklin Foer broke the story of the servers and the computer scientists’ analysis about what it seemed to mean, which he called “a suggestive body of evidence that doesn’t absolutely preclude alternative explanations.” When Foer’s story landed, the political world treated it as insane. Vox, which had dismissed reports about Trump’s secret Russian ties as “poorly evidenced conspiracy theories,” savaged the server report. The Intercept called it “wacky.” Lichtblau reported that the FBI was investigating the server but that it “ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.”

That story became famous primarily for its headline conclusion, “Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” And yet, CNN reported in March 2017 that the FBI’s investigation into the server remained open. Meanwhile, the biggest mystery of Foer’s story-- why did Trump and Russia need a computer server to communicate?-- now has a coherent answer.

It was already apparent in 2016 that the highest-profile parts of Russia’s messaging machine, like RT and Sputnik, were biased toward Trump. But now we know that its social-media activity employed precise demographic and geographic targeting — far more precise than a foreign country would be expected to have and notably concentrated on “key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal,” CNN reported. That information is highly valuable: When a Republican staffer named Aaron Nevins received stolen Democratic Party voter-profile data from Guccifer 2.0, the Russian-backed hacker, that summer, he wrote to the hacker, “This is probably worth millions of dollars.” The Alfa Bank server connection might not have been put to the exact same kind of collaborative purpose, but Russia’s social-media operation needed some fine-grained expertise to direct its targeted messages. It likely got it from somebody connected to Trump and quite possibly used the server to transmit directly with Trump Tower. If that server was transmitting data to and from Moscow, who in Trump Tower was feeding it?

...Now that he’s in office, Trump’s ties to Russia have attracted close scrutiny, and he has found his room to maneuver with Putin sharply constrained by his party. In early 2017, Congress passed sanctions to retaliate against Russia’s election attack. Trump lobbied to weaken them, and when they passed by vetoproof supermajorities, he was reportedly “apoplectic” and took four days to agree to sign the bill even knowing he couldn’t block it. After their passage, Trump has failed to enforce the sanctions as directed.

Trump also moved to return to Russia a diplomatic compound that had been taken by the Obama administration; announced that he and Putin had “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to jointly guard against “election hacking”; and congratulated the Russian strongman for winning reelection, despite being handed a card before the call warning: “Do not congratulate.”

More recently, as Trump has slipped the fetters that shackled him in his first year in office, his growing confidence and independence have been expressed in a series of notably Russophilic moves. He has defied efforts by the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, and Canada to placate him, opening a deep rift with American allies. He announced that Russia should be allowed back into the G7, from which it had been expelled after invading Ukraine and seizing Crimea. Trump later explained that Russia had been expelled because “President Obama didn’t like [Putin]” and also because “President Obama lost Crimea, just so you understand. It’s his fault-- yeah, it’s his fault.”

During the conference, Trump told Western leaders that Crimea rightfully belongs to Russia because most of its people speak Russian. In private remarks, he implored French president Emmanuel Macron to leave the European Union, promising a better deal. Trump also told fellow leaders “NATO is as bad as NAFTA”-- reserving what for Trump counts as the most severe kind of insult to describe America’s closest military alliance. At a rally in North Dakota last month, he echoed this language: “Sometimes our worst enemies are our so-called friends or allies, right?”

Last summer, Putin suggested to Trump that the U.S. stop having joint military exercises with South Korea. Trump’s advisers, worried the concession would upset American allies, talked him out of the idea temporarily, but, without warning his aides, he offered it up in negotiations with Kim Jong-un. Again confounding his advisers, he has decided to arrange a one-on-one summit with Putin later this month, beginning with a meeting between the two heads of state during which no advisers will be present.

...Trump’s determination to conciliate Putin can’t be dismissed as casual trolling or some idle attraction to a friendly face. It has a serious cost: He is raising suspicions among the public, and among probably some hawkish Republican senators, whose support he very much needs against Mueller. His motive for these foreign-policy moves is obviously strong enough in his mind to be worth prolonging an investigation he is desperate to terminate.

There is one other way in which Trump’s behavior has changed in recent months. As Mueller has plunged deeper into his murky dealings with Russia, the president has increasingly abandoned the patina of innocence. Trump used to claim he would be vindicated, and his advisers insisted his periodic fits sprang from an irrational resentment that Mueller was tarnishing his election and obscuring his achievements.



Trump barely puts much effort into predicting a clean bill of health anymore. He acts like a man with a great deal to hide: declining to testify, dangling pardons to keep witnesses from incriminating him, publicly chastising his attorney general for not quashing the whole investigation, and endorsing Russia’s preposterous claims that it had nothing to do with the election at all. (“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” he tweeted last month, contradicting the conclusion of every U.S. intelligence agency.) Trump’s behavior toward Russia looks nothing like that of a leader of a country it attacked and exactly like that of an accessory after the fact.

“After” could be optimistic. The logic of Russia’s role in helping Trump has not changed since the election. If Trump’s campaign hired hackers to penetrate his opponent’s communications or voting machines, they would risk arrest. But Putin can hire hackers with impunity. Mueller can indict Russians, and he has, but he can’t arrest them unless they decide to leave Russia. Outsourcing Trump’s hacking work to Putin made perfect sense for both men in 2016, and still does.

And if you’re Putin, embarking upon a coveted summit with the most Russophilic president since World War II, who is taking a crowbar to the alliance of your enemies, why wouldn’t you help him in 2018 and 2020? Ever since the fall of 2016, when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately turned down an Obama-administration proposal for a bipartisan warning to Russia not to interfere in the election, the underlying dynamic has been set: Most Republicans would rather win an election with Putin’s help than lose one without it. The Democrats, brimming with rage, threaten to investigate Russian activity if they win a chamber of Congress this November. For Putin to redouble his attack-- by hacking into voting machines or some other method-- would be both strategic and in keeping with his personality. Why stop now?

Meanwhile, the White House has eliminated its top cybersecurity position. That might simply reflect a Republican bias against bureaucratic expertise. But it might also be just what it looks like: The cop on the beat is being fired because his boss is in cahoots with the crooks.

Shortly before Trump’s inauguration, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, Israeli intelligence officials gathered at CIA headquarters, where they were told something astonishing: Russia, the agency believed, had “leverages of pressure” over the incoming president. Therefore, the agency advised the Israelis to consider the possibility that Trump might pass their secrets on to Russia. The Israelis dismissed the warning as outlandish. Who could believe that the world’s most powerful country was about to hand its presidency to a Russian dupe? That the United States government had, essentially, fallen?

A few months later, Trump invited Russian diplomats into the Oval Office. He boasted to them that he had fired “nut job” James Comey. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” At the same meeting, Trump passed on to the Russians a highly sensitive intelligence secret Israel had captured from a valuable source inside ISIS. It was the precise danger Israel had been cautioned about.

Like many of the suspicious facts surrounding Trump’s relations with Russia, it was possible to construct a semi-innocent defense. Maybe he just likes to brag about what he knows. Maybe he’s just too doddering to remember what’s a secret. And as often happens, these unwieldy explanations gained general acceptance. It seemed just too crazy to consider the alternative: It was all exactly what it appeared to be.



Today, only 2 senators-- Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT)-- voted against Jack Reed's amendment-- cosponsored by, among others, Pat Toomey (R-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA)-- reaffirming the American commitment to NATO-- a very direct slap in the face of Trump and his affinity to Putin and the Kremlin. It passed 97-2. Also, earlier today, the Center for American Progress, released a new report from their Moscow Project, Putin's Payout: 10 Ways Trump Has Supported Putin's Foreign Policy Agenda. The gist of it:
Putin’s Goal: Weaken and divide the transatlantic alliance.
Putin’s Payout: Trump undermines US relationships with European allies and calls the US’s commitment to NATO into question.
Putin’s Goal: Degrade the European Union and foster pro-Russian political movements.
Putin’s Payout: Trump attacks the EU and actively supports anti-EU, Kremlin-backed parties.
• Putin’s Goal: Disrupt American leadership of the global economic order.
Putin’s Payout: Trump is eagerly pushing for an all-out trade war with Europe.
 Putin’s Goal: Build global resentment and distrust towards the US and stoke anti-American sentiment.
Putin’s Payout: America’s closest allies are explicitly suspicious and distrusting of the US because of Trump’s rhetoric and actions.
 Putin’s Goal: Relieve economic and domestic political pressure from US sanctions on Russia.
Putin’s Payout: Trump tries to roll back, impede, and blunt the impact of sanctions at every step.
 Putin’s Goal: Legitimize his regime in the eyes of the world.
Putin’s Payout: Trump repeatedly praises and defends Putin, lending the weight of the US presidency providing validation towards Putin’s cause.
Putin’s Goal: Revive Russia’s status as a great power and gain international recognition for its illegal seizure of Crimea.
Putin’s Payout: Trump publicly says that Crimea is part of Russia and calls for Russia to be welcomed back into the international community with no concessions.
Putin’s Goal: Continue to sow discord in Western democracies and avoid repercussions for interfering in US and European elections.
Putin’s Payout: Trump dismisses Russian interference and has done nothing to prevent future meddling, putting him at odds with his own intelligence community.
Putin’s Goal: Soften America’s adversarial stance toward Russia.
Putin’s Payout: Trump is shifting the Republican Party’s generations-long hawkish views on Russia.
Putin’s Goal: Destabilize the US from within.
Putin’s Payout: Trump attacks US institutions while driving divisive politics and eroding democratic norms.

Labels: , , ,

8 Comments:

At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Dameocrat said...

Only shows that Chait, the Bush lover, and Iraq war apologist,m is so a maniacal for nuclear war with Russia he'd even demonize Gorbachev. Also shows some lefties are so deranged by Trump, they will start a cold war to get rid of him. Sad. BTW, The Bush family endorsed Kavanaugh today, and so did the New York Times. Enjoy your stinky big tent, with the Bush neocons, because I sure as hell won't be there.

 
At 4:55 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

And where was the press during all this time? Balancing Clinton's emails with this b.s.? The media did not do its job in 2018 - an understatement - as laid out in the Constitution. They let the American people down. As has Congress, and perhaps way too soon, the Supreme Court. Putin is destroying our government, limb by limb. There will not be a democracy left, unless somehow the Dems take over in November. Good Dems, I might add, not the Blue Dogs and New Dems, who would vote with the Republicans.

Yes, it is all so insane it is beyond belief, but unfortunately, TRUE. As I have heard, if a writer had submitted a summary of this to Hollywood for a potential film, he/she would have been laughed out of the room - too ridiculous, too implausible and too stupid. Yet here we are. We are living in a third rate novel/comedy for real. It ain't funny.

 
At 5:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hone, it's worse. "..Russian hack of the DNC broke in June, 2016.."

June of '16? Where the fuck was obamanation and his FBI and DOJ and the DNC oligarchy.

Russia can pump money by the billions into their candidates, get them elected by easily manipulating stupid American voters' opinions by using social media that cares nothing about truth (only money), hack parties and districts, and their favored party only smiles... and their disfavored party, the LOSING party, can only contemplate their navels while both thumbs are up their ass??

Voters don't seem to care. Parties don't give a shit. Why should anyone else?

 
At 7:34 AM, Blogger edmondo said...

So Putin is destroying democracy for exposing that the Clintons destroyed democracy by fixing the nomination for their candidate?

Trump and Russia is the liberal democrats version of Obama's birth certificate. It's boring, illogical and insults everyone's intelligence.

 
At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not boring. just extremely pathetic.

Not only have both parties abdicated any responsibility to maintain even a façade of giving a shit, the voters have blithely accepted whatever the "powers" tell them is the result. Nieither party gives a flying fuck if they get ratfucked... even when they lose. No candidate gives a flying fuck that THEY got ratfucked (by the supreme court; by Russians; by diebold; by Katherine harris; by Blackwell; by fraudulent voter suppression...) and just bend over and take it.

And voters themselves, as always, NEVER insist that anything is above board, fair or verifiable.

Is there a better word than pathetic? I mean... ARE we too stupid to live?

 
At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

meant to add to the list: by their own party...

 
At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if Mueller does NOT "find" anything wrt Russian money (laundering through trump's "business", campaign ca$h via the nra...), it'll prove that he wasn't tasked to "find" anything on trump or Russia.

His job is to keep us hoping (about the only thing American leftys ever do) until after yet another wasted election.

 
At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Lloyd blankfein and Jamie dimon don't deserve prison for $20 TRILLION in fraud then trump should skate on his 100s of millions in putin's laundry.

The former is 5 orders of magnitude bigger, yet ... nothing.

how big must the fraud be in order to be prosecuted in this shithole? not a rhetorical question. I'm really curious.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home