“He knows how to handle an asset and that’s what he’s doing with the president.”
– Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper referring to Putin’s relationship with Trump. (CNN – 12/18/17)
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (12/21/17)
Dear Fellow Readers,
As NBC News reported Tuesday, soon after Trump became the Republican nominee senior FBI officials briefed him on counterintelligence. including a very specific warning that foreign adversaries “would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign”. These briefings are common practice with presidential nominees. Candidates are encouraged to report such contacts: FBI Warned Trump In 2016 Russians Would Try To Infiltrate His Campaign.
“Trump would have been told, “If you see these kinds of contacts please let us know about them so we can keep you updated on the threat picture,” said Frank Montoya, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and supervisor who retired in 2016.”
That might not be a surprise to many reading this, in fact, “so what?” might be the reaction. There is also this:
“The situation was complicated by the fact that the FBI had already become aware of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, and was beginning to investigate further. Former CIA Director John Brennan has said he told the FBI about a pattern of contacts the CIA observed between members of the Trump team and Russians, and former FBI Director James Comey said the bureau then began investigating in July 2016.
“Montoya and other former FBI officials told NBC News the FBI would not have wanted to compromise that investigation by saying too much in the counterintelligence briefing of Trump.
“By the time of the warning in late July or August, at least seven Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russians or people linked to Russia, according to public reports. There is no public evidence that the campaign reported any of that to the FBI.”
The NBC News report does point out that a White House source takes the position that Trump “was unaware of the contacts between his campaign and Russians”.
Contacts in this period of time, to name a few, include the attendance of Russian U.S. ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump’s foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 along with future attorney general Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III and Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Donnie Jr., Trump’s oldest son convened a June 2016 meeting with Kushner, Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager now under indictment and several Russians. There was a December 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Kislyak, Kushner and Michael Flynn, the senior Trump adviser that pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
There are many more Trump-Russia contacts but none of these were disclosed at the time, any disclosure by the Trump campaign or Trump White House came months later, after numerous denials. In fact, Trump personally involved himself in communications about The New York Times report of Donnie Jr.’s meeting, purportedly adding his personal misrepresentation of the events.
Here’s a brief timeline of major events:
May 2016 Trump senior campaign staff/advisers meet with Kislyak
June 2016 Donnie Jr., Manafort and Kushner meet with Russians at the Trump tower including communication in advance and follow-up communication from the meeting
July 2016 FBI begins an investigation of Trump campaign and Russian contacts
August 2016 Trump is briefed by the FBI to be vigilant with foreign spying and infiltration of his campaign
December 2016 Kushner and Flynn meet with Kislyak at Trump Tower
This is not meant to be exhaustive but there are a few noteworthy points.
The FBI was aware of Trump-Russian contacts and had already begun to investigate. While the FBI investigation of Trump’s campaign had begun, the FBI briefed Trump of risks with foreign infiltration including Russians. Trump failed to say anything at this time or any time during his campaign or following his election.
Nary a peep to let the FBI know something didn’t seem right. Trump even helped Donnie Jr. paint a picture misrepresenting the June 2016 meeting as a discussion of the adoption of Russian children!
Here’s what Trump later offered about Donnie Jr.’s meeting:
“”My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer,” he said alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at the ornate Élysée Palace. “It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast.”
“”I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump said. “Politics isn’t the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard.”
“The defense has always dismissed Trump complicity because of naiveté. Can you still claim naiveté after being explicitly warned?”
After being warned, after so many meetings Trump makes no connection between Russians and FBI warnings. Or does he? Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow did eventually offer this: (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/07/16/trump-lawyer-jay-sekulow-donald-trump-jr-s-russia-meeting-legal/482606001/)
“”There’s not a violation of the law,” attorney Jay Sekulow told Fox News Sunday, one of a string of Sunday show interviews with the high-profile member of the president’s legal team.”
And THAT is where we are with so much about Trump-Russia collusion, assertions from a sitting president of – nothing illegal. Well past “no contact”.
Nothing illegal – not exactly your greatest example of leadership.
“Time to pick a side.”
Each of us has a list of abuses and attacks on Americans and American values by Trump. At any point in time we may disagree on priorities, but we agree, we’re under assault. Garry Kasparov, a Russian former chess champion and political activist has a grave warning for all of us: Americans Are Allowing Trump To Turn U.S. Into Russia, Garry Kasparov Warns.
“Kasparov said he sees some of the same tactics he witnessed in Russia being used in the U.S., like a leader “lying constantly while attacking targets for lying” and the “escalation of rhetoric to dictatorial extremes.”
““If someone is attacking those institutions instead of strengthening them, it’s time to pick a side. Rule of law or by strongman? Rule of institutions or of tribe? The history of making the wrong choice here is clear.””
But this is not Trump’s assessment. While we are under assault Trump rails against the constraints he faces that slow down his assault. Here’s a similar warning: Prominent Conservatives Shred Trump: Only ‘checks and balances’ have kept him from becoming ‘a dictator’.
“According to both conservative Foreign Policy columnist Max Boot and ex-Condoleezza Rice adviser Eliot Cohen, Trump is “incredibly erratic and unpredictable,” and has put the country at more risk since being elected.
“Boot admitted that, “some of the worst-case scenarios that we imagined have yet, mercifully, come to pass,” with Cohen chiming in to say, “It’s true, they haven’t started World War III yet … That’s a pretty low bar.”
“According to Boot, who normally opines on foreign affairs, Trump is doing an impressive amount of damage domestically.”
It is interesting to note that Boot and Cohen are conservatives and yet Boot says, “But I think I was dead right in my judgment that this is somebody who is not fit to hold office, and I think he has shown that pretty much every single day that he has been in office.”
Boot and Cohen are not alone.
Esquire magazine reports On The Front Lines Of The GOP’s Civil War.
David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and was one of the people credited with coining the statement, “axis of evil”. Frum sees Trump as a moral test:
“We’ve seen a moment before when holders of property gambled that their best hope of retaining their property was to disenfranchise fellow citizens,” Frum told me. “We’ve seen before when important parts of society put their faith in authoritarianism. Because Americans have emerged safely at the other end of some pretty scary pasts, they think no one has to do anything—‘It’ll just happen automatically.’ ”
Doesn’t this damn Republican complicity as well as Trump? Well, yes, according to Frum:
“In the essays and columns he writes for The Atlantic, in his fluent commentary on MSNBC, in his smart Twitter observations (he has close to six hundred thousand followers), and in his new book, Trumpocracy, Frum’s sharpest jabs are aimed not at the “kleptocrat” Trump but at House and Senate Republicans whose “ideas for replacing Obamacare bubbled with toxicity” and were a “radical attack on American norms of governance.””
Esquire writer Sam Tanenhaus adds this view and quote from Frum, warning us that we may very well miss conservatives – especially if they reject democracy.
“…and not feel the urgency that one finds in Frum’s Trumpocracy, with its despairing plea to an audience he worries is deaf to the approaching thunder of the Cossacks. “Maybe you don’t care about the future of the Republican party,” he writes, addressing an imaginary liberal reader. “You should. Conservatives will always be with us. If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.””
Putin’s handy tool
We’ve reached a point where we agree with outspoken conservatives that warn us against Russian involvement in our government, Putin’s use of Trump as a tool, and a slide away from democracy to authoritarianism.
My goodness, even New Jersey’s outgoing republican Gov. Chris Christie, who was also a trump campaign transition leader questions the Trump team.: CHRIS CHRISTIE ON JARED KUSHNER: ‘He deserves the scrutiny’ he’s getting in the Russia Investigation.
Christie says of Kushner:
“I’m telling you that he deserves the scrutiny, you know why? Because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that call into question his role,” Christie said to MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace on Tuesday. “And the facts will determine that ultimately.”
While Christie should know, he was there leading the team, it is worth noting:
“Christie, who was fired from the transition team, has had a with the Kushner family. While he was a US attorney, Christie successfully prosecuted Kushner’s father, real estate mogul Charles Kushner for tax evasion, lying to the Federal Election Commission, and retaliating against a federal witness.”
There is a persistent fear that Trump is a Putin tool and Trump did collude with Russia and Trump mirrors Putin’s authoritarianism. Here is John Sipher writing for The Cipher Brief after a 28 year career in the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Clandestine Service:
“Russian-born British journalist and author Peter Pomerantsev has written how Putin has used lies, disinformation and an assault on the media to disable the ability to hold the powerful to account in Russia. As Pomerantsev explained in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, the goal of Russia’s dirty tricks “is to confuse rather than convince, to trash the information space so the audience gives up looking for any truth amid the chaos.” When the waters have been so fouled, the population develops a hardened cynicism and no longer tries to discern truth from fiction. No set of facts is better than another, all politicians are the same, no country is better than any other. As they say in Russia, “everything is PR.””
So we are receiving specific, dire warnings from many directions that we are under direct assault and a full year after the election we are still scrambling around trying to fully comprehend just what happened: Senate Intel Committee Investigating Jill Stein Campaign For Possible Collusion With The Russians.
While there bubbling rumors, or heated accusations, that the House Intelligence Committee is ready to wrap up, there is this from the Senate Intelligence Committee:
“Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters Monday that the Senate Intelligence Committee has “two other campaigns that we’re just starting on,” in addition to the panel’s ongoing probe of alleged ties between the Trump administration and Kremlin officials. One of those he identified as Stein’s; Burr has indicated previously that the committee is also looking into reports that the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign paid for research that went into a dossier detailing allegations of Donald Trump’s 2013 exploits in Moscow.”
What better way to wrap up than with a Chris Christie quote from the Business Insider article:
Christie said if it turns out that Kushner is innocent of any wrongdoing, “that will come out as Mueller examines all the facts.”
“And if he’s not, that will come out too,” he said.
So let Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrap up his investigation and we’ll see if there is any criminal wrongdoing. The Trumpian “nothing illegal” defense is not an inspiring message and sounds lame for an authoritarian but we won’t presuppose.
Let’s find out what happened and fix the problems that need fixing. Unchecked and unexamined, Republicans and Trump may well take us all down a dark path of authoritarianism.