Trump’s Russia Scandals Could Get Much, Much Worse

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Trump may be trying to distract with tweets, but media and Congress need to ask, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”, about Administration links with Russia


Luca Trenta of Swansea University writes for The Conversation:


Whatever one thinks of the Trump administration’s policies, it is difficult to ignore that the new president’s tenure has so far been characterised by incompetence and carelessness. And while it’s easy to laugh at daft missteps such as an aide plugging Ivanka Trump’s clothing line in a TV interview, the indications are that Trump also struggles to handle national security.

The most public indication was his decision to grapple with North Korea’s missile test, an incredibly sensitive moment, in the dining room of his private club at Mar-a-Lago while surrounded by astonished guests and journalists. And then came the still-developing definitive story of this presidency’s early weeks: after only 24 days in office, Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned in disgrace.

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Flynn was driven out by allegations that before he took office, he illegally discussed the possibility of scaling down sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador. Along with the vice-president, Mike Pence, he had publicly denied that any such conversations had taken place – but the US intelligence services had been intercepting the ambassador’s calls and now have transcripts of his discussions with Flynn.

Even more alarmingly, the White House was apparently notified weeks before Flynn resigned that his calls and behaviour were being investigated by the FBI; former acting Attorney General Sally Yates reportedly warned the White House in January 2017 that Flynn (as well as other members of the Trump team) had extensive contacts with the Russians. (Trump famously fired Yates after she declined to defend his “travel ban”.)

The story is still developing, and it seems Flynn’s resignation might be only the start – not least since Trump’s preferred replacement for him has already declined to take the job.

Shocking stuff indeed. But is it really so exceptional? After all, this is hardly the first time that members of an incoming administration have been accused of unbecoming or illegal contacts with foreign officials.

During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Republican candidate Richard Nixon sent a message, via envoy Anna Chennault, to the South Vietnamese authorities, in which he asked them to resist a peace agreement then being discussed in Paris. Nixon feared that were an agreement reached, it could help elect his Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey. Instead, Nixon promised South Vietnam more favourable terms, the South Vietnamese government duly refused the agreement, Nixon won the election, and the war continued – claiming a further 20,000 American lives.

Along similar lines, Gary Sick, former member of the National Security Council during the Carter Administration, has argued that members of the Reagan 1980 Presidential campaign – in particular Reagan’s future Director of the CIA, William Casey – established contacts with Iranian authorities to convince them to delay the release of the US hostages in exchange for military equipment. The hostages were famously released a few minutes after Reagan’s inauguration. While there is some dispute over Sick’s claims, they are not manifestly baseless.

Both these cases demonstrate that presidential candidates and their teams have been known to put electoral victory above even concerns of national security. And in both cases, this type of transaction supposedly occurred on a quid-pro-quo basis, with foreign officials promised help in exchange for a more or less direct contribution to electoral victory.

So is the current situation more of the same, or something even more sinister – perhaps even treasonous? The story is still unravelling and it’s too soon to tell, but what we know so far is disquieting enough.

CARTER PAGE

Carter Page, Trump campaign advisor who met Russian officials in July 2016

Too Close for Comfort

We already knew that during the election, Russia helped steal and release emails that damaged Hillary Clinton, the Obama Administration later responding with new sanctions. Around the same time, several members of Trump’s team were reportedly in touch with Russian intelligence officials.

Flynn’s ties with Russia were well known even before the election. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort resigned before the election due to his pro-Russia stance and business ties. Trump is known to have business ties in Russia – and he has many times praised Vladimir Putin while refusing to criticise even his more repressive practices.

Even after all this, Trump seemed to care little for the potential political or security fallout. For Secretary of State he picked Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, a company which would stand to gain if the sanctions on Russia were lifted. Tillerson is a noted recipient of Russia’s Order of Friendship, the highest honour it confers on foreign citizens.

The evidence on the administration’s connections to Russia is certainly of concern. Even more worrying is the fact that Republicans in Congress have so far shown little desire to formally investigate them. That includes the same Republicans who spent several years and millions of dollars doggedly investigating Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi attacks and her use of a private email server.

After months of reporting information that predates Trump’s inauguration, the press corps is now in a position to cover the Flynn/Russia scandal as it develops. As proposed inquiries are stonewalled by Congress and ridiculed by the White House, the President’s tweets have tried to distract from the story by suggesting that the real issue is leakers in the intelligence agencies, not potential treason.

It will be up to the media and Democrats in Congress to request more clarity regarding these ties and what was involved in any potential quid-pro-quo. It will be up to them, especially, to ask again what the President knew and when did he know it.

TOP PHOTO: Donald Trump and, to his right, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, who met Russian officials during 2016

The Conversation

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Flynn was driven out by allegations that before he took office, he illegally discussed the possibility of scaling down sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador.

    There is no evidence of any illegality having taken place, hence the FBI not charging him with any crime. The one suggestion of impropriety on his part was that he might have lied to the FBI, but that doesn’t appear to be the case either.

    In fact, the latest reports suggest he made no such offer to the Russian ambassador.

    Trump is known to have business ties in Russia

    Wrong again. He certainly negotiated possible business dealings but none ever eventuated.

  2. Der Trumpenführer doesn’t have a ‘Russian scandal’, but a disloyal Gestapo and Enemedia more or less openly conspiring on the Heimatfront to incite sedition and a military putsch against him — for example, on 17 Feb 2017 Bill Maher [a washed-out unfunny ‘comedian’ with a talkshow] uttered the following live on air:
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    I have to put the facts before the entertainment because I feel like our country is hanging by a thread right now. Stop looking at the distractions and the clown show and look at what matters, which is I would say this is the worst political scandal in American history and it’s not going away.
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    I keep hearing on the news the cover-up is worse than the crime. No, the crime is worse, the crime is treason, the crime is colluding with Russia to fix an American election.
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    The scandal is that the Russians fixed the election for one party, now we don’t have the proof of that but the dots are all there …
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    Can I put this in perspective … when Kennedy was president, he wasn’t fucking around with the Russians but he was fucking around. The intelligence agencies, we don’t know what happened to Jack Kennedy, but that was one theory because they couldn’t trust him because he was fucking East German spies and mafia couriers and they were like this guy has a pussy problem and this cannot stand, he is too much of a danger to America, now I feel like that’s where the intelligence agencies are now.
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    Now they should not be violent, don’t get me wrong, but they are saying, through their leaks, this man cannot be president.
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    America is now in this place where we have watched other countries who we had our nose up about, Egypt and Turkey, places where we thought oh you know the dictator is crazy so the intelligence services you know that’s not really the best option … oh wait, it is the best option. They’re like our last line of defence now. And I … Trump floated the idea this week, that he’s gonna put this guy Steven Feinberg who’s some hedge-fund buddy of his, he wants him to oversee the intelligence agencies, it looks like a purge in the making so that he can take over. My question to you sir can Trump put his people in charge of the intelligence agencies because then we have no line of defence between the total coup?

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    The scripted babble of this journaille is not humour, it is raw sedition, incitement to high treason and also libel, being broadcast to millions. Der Trumpenführer had better get his shit wired rápido and stop cowering and wheedling before the disloyal Gestapo and Enemedia — he needs to get old school on these prospering traitors within the keep, with a Stalin-style purge, before their conspiracy will see him hanged. Kraft des Willens! ES KANN NUR EINEN GEBEN! Ein Führer, ein Reich, ein Volk!

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