Russia Monitor: The Perilous Road Ahead


“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself astray in a dark wood where the straight road had been lost sight of.”    

— Dante Alighieri

By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (5/6/19)

Dear Fellow Readers,

It seems we have logged 1,000 miles to arrive back right where we started. If we don’t want Trump in the White House we’re going to have to vote him out. In 2016 Trump said he may not accept the results of the election and now as we contemplate a 2020 election House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not believe Trump can be removed by impeachment and warns the margin of a Democratic victory has to be so big he cannot challenge the legitimacy of a victory.

Meanwhile Mueller has completed his investigation but the investigation of Trump-Russia continues. The only way we can be assured of fair elections is to know how our 2016 elections have been influenced if not compromised.

There are many threads to ongoing investigations including the 14 referrals Mueller made to other federal courts. Bob Bauer, writing for Just Security, raises the question of violation of campaign finance law by the Trump campaign. Mueller dismissed campaign finance violations, certainly much to the relief of Donnie Jr., because: 1) the assistance was difficult to value, and; 2) Donne Jr. may not have known better, may not have understood he was breaking the law with his June 9 Trump Tower meeting with Russians. While it is true Russia offered and delivered value to the Trump campaign to influence the election charges were not brought – another instance of no conspiracy though multiple offers. Is this an open issue?

Trump keeps alive the consideration of a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI. Once again Trump is spouting Vladimir Putin talking points following a one-hour conversation with Putin on Friday . The call is notable for two points. In response to questioning from reporters Trump dismissed the idea that he even needed to talk about Russian interference in US elections, an ongoing risk highlighted by Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security and FBI of ongoing Russian involvement. By contrast, the first question from a reporter had Trump shilling a supposed Putin commitment to not get involved in Venezuela. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday had argued that not only was Russia involved in Venezuela; Pompeo referred to it as an “invasion”.

Trump continually spouts Putin’s views ignoring his own administration: Former FBI Official Tears Into Trump Over Russia Call: Putin Has POTUS ‘Right Where He Wants Him’.

As pointed out, Trump “said the subject of Russian election interference did not come up…”

“MSNBC national security analyst Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, blasted President Donald Trump over his Friday phone call with Vladimir Putin.

“He went through three theories that have gone around about why Trump won’t confront Putin on this: that Trump believes Putin over his own intel community, that he’s “fearful” of acknowledging Russian interference because it would delegitimize his election, and that he “wants to leave open the possibility that this will help him again.””

Figliuzzi then mirrored Pelosi’s point, “he (Trump) is actually setting the groundwork that if the re-election does not go his way, he will claim that election was illegitimate — hacked — the result of some foreign nation interfering”.

Which again, brings us back to the point of ongoing investigations and specifically counterintelligence: (John Sipher for The Atlantic)

“To some, it may seem unfair that investigators would not drop their efforts even after Mueller concluded that he could not “establish that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference.” Trump clearly thinks he’s been vindicated; he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday and said on Twitter that they discussed the “Russia Hoax” in their “long and very good conversation.”

“Nevertheless, counterintelligence professionals realize they don’t have the whole story and will continue to work behind the scenes, slowly uncovering the activity of hostile intelligence services. From experience, they understand that failure to prove Russian espionage does not mean it didn’t happen. While the notion of “innocent until proven guilty” is something Americans take as solemn truth, to the Russian intelligence services it is just another vulnerability worth exploiting.”


Mueller to congress

Attorney General Barr has shown himself to be nothing more than Trump’s defense lawyer. It now looks like special counsel Mueller has a tentative date of May 15 to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. Mueller has a reputation for saying little but he has also signaled he is not happy with Barr’s summary of Mueller’s work.

Trump has of course reversed himself. In the same Friday exchange with reporters Trump, in response to a question said, “I don’t know. That’s up to our attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.” Barr had already testified that he had no objection to Mueller testifying. Two days later Trump reversed himself, launching a tweet: “Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!”


The clueless Attorney General

Barr set the stage for Mueller to testify. Barr offered no objections but also undermined his own credibility before Congress by demonstrating a complete lack of familiarity with the Mueller report and the underlying evidence.

Barr asserted the “evidence in the (Mueller) report” did not support an obstruction charge. In my last column I did not give Sen. Kamala Harris enough credit for specifically unmasking Barr’s contradictions. In response to Harris, Barr admitted that neither he nor (Deputy AG) Rosenstein had reviewed the underlying evidence before overriding Mueller’s summaries to impose his own view with the most important question of criminal charges in modern history – acting as the prosecutor but without reviewing the evidence. Harris can be heard here on this C-Span clip questioning Barr, it is stunning and worth the few minutes – starting with Barr’s demonstration of dissembling when asked a question he doesn’t want to answer: Senator Harris Questions AG Barr On Examination Of Evidence.

Sen. Durbin (D-IL) also had Barr tripping over his own attempt to defend Trump and feed a Trump narrative to investigate-the-investigators:

“Durbin outlined the evidence that was already known to the FBI in July 2016 when it opened a counterintelligence investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia. That Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee. That a Trump aide named George Papadopoulos had been informed in April that Russia had incriminating emails on Clinton. That the aide in May told an Australian diplomat named Alexander Downer. And that, in late July, material stolen from the DNC was dumped by WikiLeaks. (It was this dump that prompted Australia to inform the FBI about Papadopoulos’s earlier comments.)

“Do you believe that it was an appropriate predicate,” Durbin asked, “for opening a counterintelligence investigation to determine whether Russia had targeted people on the Trump campaign to offer hacked information that might impact the presidential election?”

“Barr said: “I’d have to see exactly what the report was from Downer, the Australian, Downer, and exactly what he quoted Papadopoulos as saying. But from what you just read, I’m not sure what the correlation was between the Russians having dirt and jumping to the conclusion that that suggested foreknowledge of the hacking.”

“By itself, that’s a remarkable admission: that Barr wasn’t familiar with what precisely Downer had said about the tip that kicked off the entire probe. But it also undercut an earlier exchange Barr had with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the committee, who had worked at the outset to build a protective scaffolding around Trump by suggesting nefarious behavior on the part of Democrats and the Obama administration.”

Barr had already offered prior testimony deliberately using the word “spying” to feed Trump’s narrative but now we learn he’s never taken the time to even review the evidence.

Imagine, the Attorney General of the United States demonstrating that evidence collected by his DoJ, FBI and special counsel doesn’t need to be considered by offering a baseless defense of Trump setting up Trump’s self-declarative ‘exoneration’ and ‘my campaign was spied on’.


The Trump-Russia investigation is not going away

The Russpublican defense of Trump is ludicrous. Don’t believe me, listen to Hillary Clinton with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, lay out a narrative of how a Dem candidate would reach out to China as an offset to Russia’s support of Trump. In accordance with Barr’s representations of how Trump-Russia was not a problem and Trump’s unwillingness to confront their ongoing involvement – so why not?

Clinton’s closing remark, “shows how absurd the situation we find ourselves in”. Who knows, how you feel about listening to Clinton as the one underscoring the absurdity of condoning Trump’s conspiracy with Russia might say volumes about the objectivity we deserve and need to protect the integrity of our elections.

There are clear progressive voices for getting money out of politics to eliminate corruption, making sure our voting equipment has integrity and is audit-able and ending gerrymandering to give fairness to our vote.

Let’s learn from what’s happened and heed these voices so we can take back control of our government. It is our only path to saving ourselves.