By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (4/24/17)
Dear Fellow Readers,
With a free-ranging flurry of news items the past few days, it’s a good time to reconcile forest and trees. The first link I’ll use is Trump And Russia, The Never-Ending Story, from The Economist and the single best round-up I’ve seen to date even, though it’s a few weeks old. Whispers of treason is the forest; Sean Spicer and GOP distortions are the trees.
Trump has spent his first 100 days with a daily run through the china shop smashing as much as possible to distract. Every day is new news, new tweets, new threats. Distract from what you ask?
Whispers of Treason vs. No There There?
I imagine if someone was coaching us on how to write a who-done-it they’d say we had to offer plausible answers to who-what-when-how-why. I’m going to use The Economist article to put forward what we know to date.
The allegation is that the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to help him win the presidency – if true, THAT would be a problem for Trump. The GOP will put forward another allegation because they know it is easier to discount. The GOP will say the allegation is the election was somehow tipped in favor of Trump which can’t be proven; one way to discount the HOW is to offer a WHAT that is an unwinnable argument. Democrats say Flynn, Manafort, Page, Stone, Kushner et al, GOP says Rice, Yates and other inventions yet to come – if they create confusion with WHAT, they can also successfully debate HOW, everyone tires of the finger-pointing because it never amounts to conclusive evidence that the election was swayed. So remember – the allegation is the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians; that’s the What and the Why though there could be more to the Why (see below).
Consider the How…
Michael Flynn met with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, and discussed relaxing US sanctions against Russia and lied about it. Paul Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager when it became known that he had close ties to various Ukrainians and Russians with ties to the Kremlin. Roger Stone, a long time friend, associate and adviser to Trump made statements that suggested he had advance knowledge of the Wikileaks release of Russian hacked DNC emails, and Stone admits he had contact with Julian Assange. Carter Page made himself a figure in the FBI investigation based on a trip to Moscow last July. Jared Kushner failed to disclose his Kislyak and Sergei Gorkov (representing a Russian bank under US sanctions) meetings. There is much more but these are four key people.
As The Economist observes, “Mr Trump’s team are behaving like men with something to hide.”
Is There MORE to WHY?
Did Sec. of State Tillerson Lie in His Confirmation Hearings?
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon Mobil prior to his appointment. Exxon has a joint venture with Rosneft, yes, the Russian state oil company with a 19% privatization initiative that we’ve mentioned before, to drill for oil in the Black Sea and on the Arctic Ocean. So what you say – that’s what oil companies do, right? Yes, but Exxon is prohibited by taking certain steps with Rosneft, again, because of US sanctions against Russia.
On Wednesday (4/19/17) the Wall Street Journal reported Exxon Mobil requested a sanction waiver to allow for drilling a test well on the Black Sea. Because of the sanctions Exxon needs a waiver from the Treasury Department to move forward and without this waiver there is a provision in the agreement that says Rosneft can pursue another relationship should Exxon fail to deliver.
Exxon applied for the waiver during the Obama administration. The application did NOT come up during the Senate confirmation hearings for Tillerson. Tillerson did offer that he and Exxon had not lobbied against Russian sanctions and a waiver is not lobbying against the sanctions. Note that Exxon has previously received a similar waiver to drill an exploratory well in the Arctic and Exxon/Tillerson had lobbied for ‘softer’ sanctions in line with the European Union that could have allowed for the Black Sea exploratory well.
When the waiver request became public, John McCain tweeted, “are they nuts?”
On Friday the US Treasury announced the request for waiver was denied. Rosneft announced they would move on and seek an agreement with Eni, an Italian oil company.
To finish this thought, should we have heard about this through Tillerson’s hearing?
Exxon-Rosneft – A $500 Billion Deal
So many times we’ve heard people say Putin has no preference for Trump over Hillary. We just heard Donald Jr. assure us the launch of the 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria proved there was no Trump-Putin bromance. We were reminded of this again when we saw Mike Conaway named as the House Intelligence committee co-chair to investigate Trump-Putin collusion to sway/hack the US presidential election (from the New York Times, cited in TRM on 5/17/17:
In January, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Mr. Conaway likened Russian interference in the election to Mexican stars who campaigned on behalf of Hillary Clinton, remarks that he struggled to explain to a handful of incredulous constituents last week. He conceded that he had done “a poor job of nuancing what I was trying to get at.”
An Exxon-Rosneft deal is potentially valued at $500 billion. The Payoff—Exxon Asks For A Waiver To Take Next Step In Rex Tillerson’s $500B Deal With Putin
I wonder… What if Michael Flynn had not been caught lying about his discussion of relaxing US sanctions against Russia with Kislyak? There has been discussion of Carter Page being rewarded through the Rosneft privatization, but that’s a small thing compared to $500 billion. Is there somehow a reason you’d want Tillerson as Secretary of State with his relationship with Putin, Flynn with his Russian ties, Manafort with his Russian ties, Stone with his contact with Assange, Trump encouraging Russia to hack Hillary’s email, Ross (Sec Commerce) with ownership in a bank in Cyprus known to launder Russian money, Kushner with meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov as part of his “dozens of meetings with Russians”.
President Trump Release Your Taxes!
There is an easy way to dispel most of the concern with Trump and Russian collusion – he can release his taxes. Releasing his taxes could dispel any questions about financial blackmail from Russia. The longer he refuses to do this the louder the demand will get. Conaway and Gowdy and Nunes are likely to try to hold the line with “leaking, lying, Rice” but I don’t see how that solves Trump’s problem with FBI investigations and demands for him to release his taxes. Unless, that is, we stop paying attention, stop asking questions, stop demanding answers.
This will all take time to play out and we’ll hear a lot about leaks on the one hand and Trump’s taxes on the other hand, but as Frank Rich said,
“Our best hope for seeing Trump’s tax returns will be that day when the Kremlin decides that his useful idiocy is no longer useful and leaks them for its own purposes, no doubt via WikiLeaks.”
Sadly, I admit that there is always the chance the GOP uses partisan politics to bury this by simply avoiding substantiation though they limp on without closure, without dispelling the whispers.