What Started as a Probe into Russian Hacking and Meddling Appears to have Expanded into an Examination of Russian Infiltration into the Highest Levels of our Government
Making the Case that the U.S. President is Putin’s Puppet
If there were any doubt that Donald Trump is a Russian stooge, it should be erased by his decision to pull the plug on legal action against police departments accused of civil rights abuses against minorities.
Sowing distrust and confusion among adversaries is part of the art of war, whether the conflict is hot, cold or cyber.
While Trump has sown distrust among our allies since his swearing-in, his shift from federal civil rights enforcement is a giant step toward sparking civil unrest here at home.
On Monday night, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the U.S. Department of Justice to review and likely cease some ongoing investigations of police abuse of minorities. The review order also covers previously settled cases in a dozen cities, including Albuquerque.
“Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing,” Sessions said in a statement. “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”
That position is especially outrageous in light of the purpose of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ – which is to enforce constitutional and statutory equal rights protections even if the perpetrators are local police or prosecutors.
Ensuring domestic tranquility?
Incredibly, the Sessions order ignores the systemic pattern and practice of unconstitutional use of force that has led from simmering to boiling-over resentment of police in minority communities for years.
In Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas and Ferguson, Mo., minorities recently have turned to both violent and non-violent protest in the face of inaction by local prosecutors in police killings. In Baltimore, businesses in Black neighborhoods were burned after Freddie Gray died while in police custody.
If the Kremlin went looking for a way to incite racial violence in U.S. cities, it couldn’t come up with a better way than the Sessions DOJ order.
But it’s not just this single domestic development that establishes probable cause in the case of Trump’s stoogery on behalf of Russia; instead it’s the totality of his actions in the 70-odd days since he was sworn in.
Trump has openly expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Admiring Russia’s strong man itself is disturbing but equating our nation’s record abroad to Putin’s record of murder, as he did on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” is an affront to our nation and what it stands for.
Undermining our alliances
In foreign affairs, Trump has alienated Germany, one of our closest allies, and he’s repeatedly taken shots at the NATO alliance that has helped keep Russia in check since World War II. One of his very first acts was to disparage long-time U.S. ally Australia.
On trade, Trump has denigrated Mexico and Mexicans and fueled their longtime distrust of this country, despite the fact that Mexico is one of our biggest trading partners and is the source of much of our food supply. He’s intent on blowing up multi-lateral deals that give the U.S. economic influence over vast stretches of the globe – in pursuit of bringing home jobs that nearly every expert has said are gone for good.
Trump has disparaged the work of U.S. intelligence agencies – the people who likely now possess or are gathering the evidence against him. As smokescreens, he falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping him and he declared war on the U.S. news media as the “enemy of the people.”
This last act – accusing the news media of disseminating “fake news” is especially hypocritical; it was the news media that revealed Trump was the beneficiary of fake news systematically spread across social media by Russia to benefit his candidacy.
And let’s talk about the damage Trump’s anti-Muslim ban has done to the war on terrorism. Once-friendly Muslim allies now are thinking twice about cooperating with the U.S. Even George W. Bush recognized that alienating 22 percent of the planet’s population can only dig us deeper into a hole.
But the rot goes deeper.
For Russians seeking to undermine the world’s faith in democracy, Trump’s attacks on a “rigged” 2016 U.S. Presidential election and his patently false claims of massive voter fraud are the kind of manna from heaven that Putin’s propagandists and their Soviet pre-internet predecessors could only dream of.
And then on the granular level, there’s the web of connections to the Russian government of Trump’s campaign and some of his cabinet-level picks. These connections will continue to haunt him as the Senate Intelligence Committee and FBI get down to work – to do the job the ethically compromised House Intelligence Committee chairman, a member of Trump’s transition team, by the way, refused to do.
What started as a probe into Russian hacking and meddling in the 2016 Presidential election – the Clinton email hacks, fake news spread by Russian social media trolls – appears to have expanded into a full-blown examination of Russian infiltration into the highest levels of our government.
Plenty to investigate
Besides the lucrative Russian dealings of Trump’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his now-disgraced, immunity-seeking pick for national security chief, there are the especially troubling connections between and among Trump’s commerce secretary, Deutsche Bank, and a bank in Cyprus known for laundering money for the Russians.
And five days before Wikileaks’ public data dump of thousands of hacked Democrats’ emails, Roger Stone, a Trump campaign adviser, predicted, “Wednesday Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.”
This week, The Washington Post reported that nine days before Trump took office, former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, an unofficial envoy for Trump, met secretly in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean with a Putin confidante to establish a back channel to Moscow.
The meeting ostensibly was held to explore how Russia could be persuaded to curtail support for Iran and Syria, but even in that context the meeting would have served Russia’s not America’s interests, according to the Post.
The newspaper reported that the FBI is looking into the meeting as part of its probe into Russian meddling and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
How and when the hook might have been set
How did Trump become Putin’s stooge?
Any person with an internet connection could point to a variety of events, but the most notable is public disclosure of a dossier compiled by a former British MI-6 operative that alleges Trump was a participant in a sexual escapade in a Moscow hotel during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.
The former MI-6 operative’s sources alleged that Trump paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had once slept in. If it occurred, a surveillance video of that event alone – with Trump looking on intently, clothed or unclothed – would likely put him in the Russians’ pocket for life.
But possible Russian compromising of Trump may go back further, to the 2008 sale of a Trump Organization-owned mansion in Palm Beach.
In a year when homeowners were being foreclosed upon, investors across America were taking a bath, banks were closing and real estate prices were plummeting, Trump was paid $95 million by an oligarch with close ties to Putin – more than twice the $40 million he paid to buy the mansion less than four years earlier at the height of the real estate bubble.
The deal went down at a time Deutsche Bank was breathing down Trump’s neck to repay loans it had made to the Trump Organization. The stench of this Trump-Putin nexus is not easily explained away.
The tax returns
And then there’s Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, which would show the extent of his dealings with the Russians, the Chinese and other nations affected by his foreign policy. Last month, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow rightly asked the following question on her show:
“Couldn’t the tax returns sort out for us this historic, inexplicable dump of foreign money into the President’s coffers that cannot be explained in normal business terms?
“That’s a potential problem for someone serving as President of the United States. Is the President in a position where we need to watch to make sure that he’s not paying off his past benefactors with our country’s resources, with U.S. policy, with decisions he can make as President?”
As the evidence builds, this might be a question for which Trump might want to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
While investigating criminal wrongdoing, as TV viewers know, police detectives typically cite “means, motive and opportunity.”
The court of public opinion
Let’s lay out the case against Donald Trump:
Motive: to protect the Trump brand, which is the foundation of his business empire and wealth. Should he be revealed to have been compromised by the Russians, either through blackmail or payoff, Trump and his brand would be ruined and his empire destroyed.
Knowing what we know about him, which for many of us is already too much, is it inconceivable that this egomaniac whose business interests span the globe would sell out his country to protect the only thing that is most important to him?
Means: As President, he can disrupt the United States’ foreign alliances and cripple the nation from within as well. Edicts such as the DOJ civil rights enforcement pull-back, his gutting of the EPA, and his immigration round-ups are sowing discord and almost certainly lead to widespread protests and very likely violence in America’s inner cities.
Opportunity: Thanks to Russian help and the gullibility of American voters he gained that opportunity and won four years in the White House.
With Republican control of all three branches of government, he can buy himself time to wreak havoc on our economy, the U.S. and global climate and civil rights and destabilize global geopolitics in ways to the advantage of the Russians.
During this time, his GOP accomplices on Capitol Hill will work to transform our nation into their own Citizens United version of a Russian-style oligarchy – where there is no difference between the government’s and private interests, where the uber-rich can cloister themselves away in their own Mar-a-Lagos, and where corporations are given free rein to prey on the working men and women Trump cynically pledged to help.
This is the America we live in. This is the America we’re stuck with and the one we should be afraid of, unless either the FBI or U.S. Senate step up and do their jobs.