Russia Monitor: The Number One, Most Important Bigly Question For All Of Us

 “My client didn’t do it, and even if he did it, it’s not a crime.”

— Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, FOX News (7/30/18″

By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (8/2/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

Let’s put Giuliani’s comment in context. We’ll make use of a tweet by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA; minority leader House Intelligence Committee) from this week:

The evolution of Trump on Russia:

No meetings with any Russians.

Ok, lots of low level meetings. Ok, high level meetings too, but about adoptions.

Ok, not about adoptions, but Trump didn’t know.

Ok, maybe he did, but no crime. Next?

Ok, it’s a crime. Pardons for everyone!

This is the pattern we’re seeing unfold. We ended the last edition with a question, do we care?

Melania Trump’s Jacket; The Right Question: ‘I really don’t care. Do U?’

There are certainly readers who feel Trump-Russia is overblown and gets in the way of more serious issues. We’ll turn to Noam Chomsky later in the column to speak to that.

There are others on the right, what the Washington Post calls MAGA-heads, who already say if Russia helped Trump get elected that’s just great and, further, declare if Russia helps in the mid-term elections, that’s just fine with them. Max Boot writing for the Washington Post predicts that as the case against Trump and his campaign is made clear we can expect many Russpublicans ‘russian’ to join the MAGA-heads: Cohen May Have The Smoking Gun.

Boot uses recent news of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s revelations acknowledging Trump’s personal knowledge in advance of Donnie Jr.’s June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians for ‘dirt’ on Hillary. Prior knowledge makes this about Trump-Putin conspiracy, not just the ‘campaign that couldn’t shoot straight’.

“What has been lacking so far is the “smoking gun.” Cohen may just supply it, if his purported testimony is credible and corroborated (admittedly big ifs). Indeed, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has gone from arguing that Trump didn’t know about the Trump Tower meeting to arguing that the then-candidate wasn’t present (which no one has alleged he was) — and from arguing that no collusion occurred to arguing that collusion, even if it occurred, is no big deal. This is his actual defense: “My client didn’t do it, and even if he did it, it’s not a crime.””

Russpublicans are jumping on board and pushing things beyond “it’s not a crime”:

“We are very, very close to the Putin Republicans arguing that they’re glad he worked with the Kremlin to beat “Crooked Hillary.” In fact, some MAGA-heads have already made this very case. It is, after all, the natural culmination of the hysteria of so many Trumpists. If you believe, as former White House aide Michael Anton argued, that the Democrats are the moral equivalent of the al-Qaeda terrorists who hijacked Flight 93, then anything is permissible to save the country. Even collusion with its enemies.”

Boot assures us that “conspiracy to defraud the United States” is a crime but for right now we’re focused on attitudes. The point here is that ‘law-n-order’ Russpublicans are just fine with whatever Trump did or does:

“The pathetic truth is that Republicans now think if Trump does it — whatever “it” is — it’s not a crime.”


GOP: Russian fan club

So Russpublicans are putting  new twist in the GOP: Poll: Some Republicans Find Russian Help In Midterms ‘appropriate’.

Are you surprised? Is it important, to learn that 11% of Russpublicans say it is appropriate for Russia to help, with an additional 29% say “not appropriate, but wouldn’t be a big deal”? Fully 40% of the Repbulican — er, Russpublican — Party is ho-hum about Russian interference with our elections?

Meanwhile 14% of Democrats agree “it would be a big deal” for Russia to interfere again.

Meanwhile, Russian interference is ramping up again.


They are at it again

On Mnday we reported Russian attempts to hack Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and her campaign. This edition the Russian target is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): Sen. Shaheen Says Senators Targeted In “widespread” Hacking Attempts.

“Amid ongoing concern over continued efforts by Russian hackers to infiltrate U.S. election systems, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire says that her office has been the subject of at least one phishing attack targeting email accounts and social media profiles. Shaheen’s experience comes after fellow Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her office’s computer network. Shaheen worries that the issue is more widespread than many think. 

“”There has been one situation that we have turned over to authorities to look into, and we’re hearing that this is widespread, with political parties across the country, as well as with members of the Senate,” Shaheen told “Face the Nation” on Sunday.”

Russians are actively interfering in the 2018 elections and there are many on the Right and the Left that either approve or feel it’s no big deal.


A shrug on the left

One of the things that is a conundrum to many on the left is: Why Are So Many Leftists Skeptical of the Russia Investigation?

This reads like a good summary.

“As you move from the right to the left of the ideological spectrum, skepticism of the Russia scandal gives way to suspicions that it covers up something serious. But somewhere on the left, right around the fault line where Barack Obama is deemed to have been a bad president, opinion turns back again toward skepticism.”

It’s a thoughtful article capturing a range of voices of frustration on the left. It’s well written and you may find some of your concerns represented.

A similar view is offered by Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now!, with his remarks on Trump-Russia towards the end of the interview.


Fire on the right

One of the views often expressed is if we just talk to Trump voters, talk to Putin and Russia – all will be okay. Hard to argue, but here’s a group of Trump supporters available for dialog any time. While much of this is likely good theater, there is a real concern that Trump is inciting violence against the press, especially CNN: Trump Approvingly Tweets Video Of His Rally Crowd Harassing A Journalist.

“The atmosphere had gotten so toxic that at a Tuesday night rally in Tampa, Florida, the president didn’t even need to encourage his crowd. Before his speech, large numbers of audience members harassed CNN reporter Jim Acosta while he was trying to cover the rally — crowding around him threateningly, giving him the middle finger, and leading chants of “CNN sucks.”

“And then on Wednesday morning, President Trump signaled his approval of this, by retweeting his son Eric’s praise of the harassment…”

So much for some Trump voters.

How about those Russpublicans? Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has a few thoughts: Russia And The Far Right’s Cozy Affair.

“The links among Vladimir Putin, President Trump, and segments of both the Republican Party and the American conservative movement seem bizarre. How can this be, given the Russian president’s KGB pedigree and a Cold War history during which antipathy toward the Soviet Union held the right together?

“In truth, there is nothing illogical about the ideological collusion that is shaking our political system. If the old Soviet Union was the linchpin of the Communist International, Putin’s Russia is creating a new Reactionary International built around nationalism, a critique of modernity and a disdain for liberal democracy. Its central mission includes wrecking the Western alliance and the European Union by undermining a shared commitment to democratic values.”

Dionne offers a warning to conservatives about the risk to democracy, but his more serious warning is to liberals.

“It should bother members of the GOP that progressive writer Brian Beutler was onto something when he observed recently that “in many ways Moscow understood Republicans better than Republicans understand themselves.” Putin saw that what he and parts of the right share is a hatred of liberalism.”

Nationalism and a hatred of liberalism are serious warnings. It has been offered here before, the unifying point between Trump and MAGA-heads is hatred of the same things. Hatred is excellent if not necessary kindling for a good nationalist fire.


Rudy runarounds

There are three personalities very much at the center of Trump-Putin conspiracy news – Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, indicted former Trump campaign manger Paul Manafort, whose trial has now started, and the accused Russian agent Maria Butina, who is in jail as well. Giuliani is keeping himself ever-present on cable news, many news outlets are providing daily coverage of Manafort’s trial, but Butina where new news is appearing from many angles.

A quick Giuliani update first. After months of vociferous denials we are told “collusion is not a crime” — as in Trump  being alerted to the Donnie Jr. Trump Tower meeting in advance. The clincher, for now, was Giuliani breaking the news that there was a Donnie Jr.-Russians prep meeting two days in advance – the same day Trump stood up in the evening promising “dirt” on Hillary. Many of the videos are of assorted FOX News pundits struggling to keep up with Giuliani as the whirling dervish of Trump news, denials, inventions and deflections spins one new interpretation of Trumplandia after the other. Esquire provides an updated tally Rudy Giuliani, Bad Lawyer, May Have Just Spilled The Beans.

And this is likely the summary of Giuliani strategery:

“When later asked if [Donald Trump]Senior knew about the meeting, Giuliani wisely offered that “nobody can be sure of anything.””

Read through to the end of the Esquire piece so you can watch Rudy making the rounds in the afternoon to ‘clarify’ what he had — and had not — told FOX News in the morning; “…he called up Fox News later in the day to announce that Actually, I Meant to Say There Was No Planning Meeting!

Manafort would not get a mention if not for Trump tweeting, “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.

As things heat up: Why Trump Is So Freaked Out By The Manafort Trial.

Giuliani is breaking new Trump-Russia conspiracy news, and here’s Trump giving his own assist, once again, telling us exactly where to look.

“For all the talk from Trump defenders and even some in the mainstream media that the Manafort trial has nothing to do with Trump, Trump plainly feels differently. So why should he be so upset, again showing that his objective has been to shut down (i.e., obstruct) the ongoing Russia investigation?

“There are a slew of reasons why the trial should trouble Trump, not the least of which is a possible conviction (carrying what amounts to a life sentence) against the president’s former campaign chairman. That’s not going to help Trump’s effort to paint the entire Russia investigation as a “hoax.””

Any minute now we should get the apologists from the fringe of both the Right and Left telling us what Trump really meant and why it isn’t important.


Maria in the middle of the muddle

It’s hard to a find single accused Russian spy Maria Butina news story, but here goes: Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina Told American CEO: Send Cash To Moscow.

Much of what is coming forward about Butina is based on the details of her bank transactions going back to 2014. Interesting to note, the FBI approached Wells Fargo in “early 2017” for the information. The reason we highlight the Daily Beast article is because of the wide range of names and relationships that are surfacing. Many of us remember Maurice “Hank” Greenberg as one of the principle evil-doers from the 2008 financial crisis when he was CEO of AIG but it turns out, he also invested $100 million in a Russian bank through Greenberg’s Starr Russia Investments III investment fund.

Another disclosure, Greenberg is the main source of funding for the think tank Center for the National Interest, founded by former Pres. Richard Nixon in 1994.

“The Center’s honorary chairman—former secretary of state and accused war criminal Henry Kissinger—is one of Vladimir Putin’s closest international confidants; the two have met 17 times over the years. Kissinger also advised Donald Trump to move closer to Russia as a way of containing China’s rise on the global stage. Board member Richard Burt is also a lobbyist for Russian oil giant Gazprom. Jon Huntsman, Trump’s ambassador to Russia, previously served on the Center’s board. And David Keene, whom Butina appears to have cultivated, is also a board member. Butina also wrote for the Center’s magazine.”

Not only do you now have Butina, former NRA President David Keene, Russian oil company Gazprom, war criminal Henry Kissinger… Butina wrote for the Center’s magazine, but note board member Richard Burt:

“Trump himself gave the first major foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign at an event the Center hosted, on April 27, 2016 at Washington’s tony Mayflower Hotel. Burt helped craft the talk. Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended, seated in the front row.”

It was a conversation between Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III with Kislyak at the speech that triggered the controversy leading to a Trump-Russia recusal by Sessions and the subsequent appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

To come full circle, somehow, 29 year-old Butina shows up to encourage Greenberg to invest more money in his Russian bank to keep it from failing:

“According to multiple sources familiar with her actions, Butina appeared to be aware that the Russian bank in which Greenberg had invested was in trouble.”

Quite a thing for a mere graduate student to be interceding with Greenberg, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York over his investment funds’ position in a Russian bank.

Imagine, Butina, “left observers shocked and disturbed—a little-known twenty-something who was closely linked to a top official in the Russian Central Bank appeared to be telling a major American financier how to handle his Russia investments.

One final coincidence, the Wells Fargo financial transactions show one transaction between Butin and Russian Alfa Bank. It was a server at Alfa Bank that was responsible for 99% of the traffic with a server at Trump Tower, which in turn, communicated with a server at Spectrum Health, a DeVos business. Trump’s Secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos and her brother is Trump adviser and Blackwater founder Erik Prince who admits to being in the Seychelles with Emiratis and a Russian investment manager allegedly to set up a back channel with Russia. 


Melting denials

So many denials have melted away as Trump-Russia conspiracy lies. But no matter, many are prepared to accept Trump’s actions as unimportant, if not wise diplomacy or even ‘stable genius’.

Long forgotten is Obama’s attempt at a Russian ‘reset’ in the face of Russpublican criticism and mockery. Trump’s notion of now talking to despots and nationalists without precondition and forging a strong buddy bro-ship with Russia are celebrated as original concepts. No one besides Trump — not even his Secretary f State Mike Pompeo — even knows what’s being discussed or agreed to in theses meetings. 

The Bigly question is, do you trust this president to represent the best interests of the U.S.?

(Commoner Call cartoons by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free for non-deerivative use with link to )