Russia Monitor: The End Of The Beginning


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (7/13/17)

Dear Fellow Readers,

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill 

The week’s very big news, starting on Saturday and continuing through Monday, was a series of articles released by the New York Times that can be summarized by this headline:

Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said

The dialog of Trump-Russia has changed from no meetings with Russians to ‘nothing illegal’ and per White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “There was simply no collusion”.

The End Of The Beginning – we’ve reached a point where the debate is about the definition of collusion and the actions of people closest to Trump.


Is Trump-Russia Collusion Important?

Let’s take a look at a few perspectives, not everyone, right or left, is a fan of the attention to the issue of Trump collusion with Russia to affect our election.

It’s worth saying: Both Health Care is Urgent and Trump-Russia is important.

How does Trump-Russia media attention affect the Trump legislative agenda?

Where would we be with punitive health care legislation, tax reform to benefit the rich or institutionalization of the theft of voter rights? Would our foreign policy be ‘better’ given a White House that rejects human rights as a consideration?

This from the Washington Post:

“A growing number of senators believe that the widening Russia probe — as well as the Trump-fueled tumult that seems to dominate nearly every news cycle — have stalled their legislative agenda, leaving them nothing to offer their constituents by way of achievements when they head home over the break.”

As far as I am concerned, hats off and thank you to the media attention on Trump-Russia for stalling out his administration and punitive legislation. To date he’s managed one SCOTUS appointment.


Does Russian Influence In Our Election Process Really Matter?

How can we deny the importance of knowing what happened or whether it can happen again. Before the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller the people leading the investigative institutions were summarily fired by Trump: Sally Yates, Preet Bharara, James Comey – to name a few.

If we believe in free elections let’s start here, now. I’ll leave it to Sean Hannity to suddenly concern himself with the rest of the world and US conduct, he’s suddenly become very liberal in his defense of Trump.

There Is Only One Right Side Of The Trump-Russia Question

There is only one right side to be on with Trump-Russia collusion. Here’s a perfect way to start, with the words of veteran CBS news reporter and Watergate veteran Dan Rather:

“The questions are obvious. The answers are wanting. We the American people deserve to know what in God’s name is happening. Our legal system demands a presumption of innocence until the evidence proves otherwise. But the evidence is piling up.

“I have been around a long time. I like to think I have seen a lot. But the revelations of the emails that set up the meeting between Donald Trump. Jr. – and let us not forget both Paul Manafort and Jarod Kushner – with an agent of the Russian government is unlike anything I could even have imagined. There is still a lot that we do not know. But only a hypocrite, a cynic or a fool could argue that this development can be innocuously explained.

“It is like a carnival mirror is being held up to American democracy, distorting everything we thought we knew into grotesque new shapes. We need a reality check. This is decision time, especially for our elected officials. Which side of history will you be on?”


The Story – Chronology Per NY Times

We started with this story on Sunday for the Monday edition of The Commoner Call. While the NY Times broke the story, the Washington Post to laid out the masterful job done by the NY Times to release the news in stages while allowing Donald Trump Jr. the opportunity to fully disclose … which he did not.

The way the articles unfolded:

  • The first version had Donnie Jr. admitting to a meeting with a Russian lawyer that was supposedly simply a pitch about adoption of Russian children.
  • The updated story added that Donnie Jr. agreed to the meeting after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton showing the Trump campaign was willing to accept Russian help.
  • The next update to the story shared the emails to/from Donnie Jr. leading up to the meeting. This from the Washington Post (emphasis from WaPo):
One Wednesday evening the New York Times reported:
Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.”

At each stage of the story Donnie Jr. in cooperation with the Trump White House made every effort to ‘contain’ the story. Donnie Jr.’s disclosures, including his tweeting of the email exchange in advance of the Monday NY Times article, resulted from additional contact from the paper advising him of the content of each subsequent article.

That’s The News But Does It Matter?

There is a great deal of detail about the background of the Russian lawyer and her connections to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, the go-between that coordinated and attended the meeting and the Russian oligarch and his family that made the initial introductions. It’s all important because it bolsters the case, and adds to the incrimination but I will side-step that level of detail though much of it is summarized in the linked WaPo article. Donnie Jr. chose the typical Trump pattern of denial and only disclose after a story breaks.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson cut through the swirling smoke to the heart of the matter, calling the Russia meeting “a legal game changer”

“From now on, ignore the conventional wisdom about how the Russia scandal is not ‘resonating’ with President Trump’s still-loyal base. The question at this point is what strikes a chord with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — and what kind of legal jeopardy Trump’s closest associates, including his eldest son and son-in-law, might eventually face. … Is this all too complicated for voters to follow? Would Americans beyond the Beltway rather hear about jobs or health care? Perhaps so. But the questions that should be concentrating the minds of the president’s inner circle are legal, not political — and Mueller’s high-powered team of lawyers is experienced at connecting dots.”

The highlighted emphasis is mine – yes, please do pay attention to health care legislation and more and rest assured the legal questions are in the capable hands of Robert Special Counsel Mueller.

Please also appreciate, Trump-Russia is now a clear legal issue and it may well be the single greatest impediment to Trump’s/GOP legislative agenda. Thank goodness.


CONTEXT: Where Does Donnie Jr.’s Meeting Fit In The 2016 Timeline

From Donnie Jr. email:

“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer”

Prior to June 7: Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee reminds us the hacking had already happened before June 7 but not as yet dumped.

June 7: Donnie Jr. confirms meeting with Russian lawyer.

June 7 PM: Trump holds press conference promising Clinton ‘dirt’ next week.

June 9: Donnie Jr. meeting with Russian lawyer takes place; Manafort and Kushner attend.

June 9: The White House claims Trump knew nothing about the meeting, yet that same afternoon Trump tweeted for the very first time about Hillary Clinton’s ‘missing’ 33,000 emails. The meeting with a Kremlin connected lawyer to hand over the information took place in Trump Tower and Trump met with Manafort later that morning, the day that first tweet happened. But Trump alleged he knew nothing.

June 15:  The hacker Guccifer (US intelligence officials link Guccifer to Russia’s military intelligence) takes credit for the Democratic National Committee hack and posts hacked DNC documents. Guccifer will eventually post additional hacked documents—from the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and purportedly from the Clinton Foundation—at least nine more times in the months leading up to the election.

June 15: Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Majority leader, says, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” (Rorhbacher is R-CA Dana Rohrbacher, a steadfast defender of Putin and Russia.)

June 19: Ten days after Donnie Jr.’s meeting the traffic between the Alfa Bank (Russian state bank) server and the Trump Tower server goes into over-drive.

We know that in July Carter Page began criticizing US sanctions against Russia.

We know that policy adviser Sam Clovis softened the GOP platform statement at the GOP convention denouncing Russian involvement in Ukraine. This was the only major change the Trump gang insisted upon in the party’s platform.

We know from recent reporting in The Wall Street Journal that Peter W. Smith, long time GOP operative, with links to the Trump campaign, sought the ‘missing’ 33,000 emails by reaching out to Russians with Kremlin connections.


Okay, But What If No Information Changed Hands At Or After Donnie Jr.’s Meeting?

The meeting confirmed the Trump campaign was open for business.

In a PBS interview, former CIA officer John Sipher, said the proposed meeting was a test. Donnie Jr. may not have understood this but Paul Manafort would have certainly understood, given his dealings with Russians while working in Ukraine. Yes, opposition campaign research is normal, but not this. And remember, Trump has consistently denied any meetings, communication or coordination with Russians. (Sipher is at the 4-minute mark)


EVEN Conservative Lion Charles Krauthammer – Turns On Trump, Trump Jr.

According to Washington Post conservative opinion writer Charles  Krauthammer, incompetence doesn’t make collusion any less serious. Krauthammer has been a consistent “no there there” defender of Trump, but now he eviscerates a defense of incompetence, observing “Well now there is a there there.” The video is 5 minutes, jump in at the 4-minute mark to catch the denouncement.


A Much Needed Humor Analysis: Stephen Colbert Brutally Dissects The Donald Trump Jr.-Russia Collusion Claims.“It’s not a smoking gun, but it is a gun meeting with a Russian bullet about their mutual desire to smoke.” 7-Minute Video.

And One Final Piece of Humor

Over at Esquire Charles Pierce put his trademark spin on Trumplandia:

“Right now, there are more Russians involved in this story than there are in War and Peace. Many of them have the power to cloud men’s minds; how else to explain the fact that both Kushner and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III both forgot to mention to the responsible vetting agencies meetings with various Russians. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if the statue in the Lincoln Memorial was wearing a fur hat some morning very soon. At this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if the R in Rhode Island suddenly turned backwards.”

The Next Chapter For Extra Credit:

On Thursday (7/12) McClatchey News opened a whole new line of investigation with this news lead:

“Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries. …”

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