This whole trump/Russia ordeal never stops. There’s so much information, on an almost daily basis, that it’s hard to keep up. Even the handy graphics showing the connections begin looking like a bowl of spaghetti. But, the complication is not a reason for suspicion.
Too many of us have dismissed it for its incoherence, rather than accept the fact that there’s too much smoke to deny a fire exists. The trump team disparages the entire idea, attacking the messengers, rather than the substance. And, their followers (many of my friends) mindlessly repeat the denials and demand classified intelligence as proof before they’ll believe a word. Of course, this is insanity. But, they don’t want to know. Perhaps for the fear that it could hinder our progress on tax reform, future SCOTUS appointments, regulatory reform, etc. Legit concerns, but not equivalent. Not to me. I want to know. Why would I be mad about who leaked impropriety, and ignore the fact that it occurred, and then was lied about? Are we mad at Mark Felt, who leaked Watergate? Do we want Daniel Ellsberg re-charged for his Pentagon Papers revelation? When something bad happens, occasionally, the law must be broken, or ethics challenged in order expose it, and serve the greater moral argument of accountability and honesty. And yes, no matter who the political opponent is.
For the sake of brevity, not all connections can even be described here. There are simply too many. But, the highlights are worth looking at, in order. A roadmap of sorts. A TripTik, if you will, for those who remember when AAA was a luxury of road trip lovers. Afterward, I share my thoughts on what all the puzzle pieces mean.
TO START, THE FACTS
IN 2013, the FBI and other agencies discovered the presence of three Russian spies working to recruit Carter Page, a former Gazprom employee and advisor. While the success of that effort is unclear, Page has affirmed he is “US Person 1.”
IN AUGUST 2015, surrounded by a cloud of rancor, Roger Stone left the trump campaign after only a couple of months. Stone, later admitting contact with the primary hacker in the election scandal, had been a personal friend of trump’s going back three decades. Stone is also a lobbying partner of Paul Manafort, marking an early connection to Manafort, long before his official employment by the campaign.
IN DECEMBER 2015, Page travelled to Russia, and again in 2016, slamming US foreign policy, sanctions, and praising Russia’s energy potential. During the winter, Britain’s GHCQ and other foreign agencies in Australia, Estonia, Poland and Germany began intercepting communications that involved trump’s name and the coming election. They forwarded this information to the US authorities. Page’s speech in July 2016 was noteworthy because the FBI already had him on their radar from 2013 and this new intel, and he was the subject of a FISA warrant based on credible suspicions and intercepts, combined with his history. Incidentally, Page also seemed to know the name of Rex Tillerson as an option for Secretary of State, many months before America did, and presumably trump himself. Tillerson had just entered retirement after a long, successful career at Exxon. He had spent years advocating for the repeal of sanctions on Russia which killed a $500 billion oil field they’d been working on with Russian oil company, Rosneft, and previously served as board director for a Russian/Exxon oil company based in the Bahamas. Page praised Tillerson’s unique status of “Official Order of Friendship,” the highest Russian honor a foreign citizen can receive from the president.
IN MARCH 2016, Moscow instructed state backed media outlets, including former Michael Flynn employer RT, to publish more trump-friendly stories. March 29, Paul Manafort officially joined trump campaign.
IN JUNE 2016, a Russian think tank, the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, staffed by intelligence officials appointed by President Vladimir Putin issued a report concluding that a trump victory was in their county’s best interest. The report outlined a detailed social media campaign that would employ the use of websites and bots to sway voter impressions.
IN JULY 2016, the GOP convention, organized in large part by Paul Manafort, made several changes to the party platform, including a major alteration in Ukraine policy. No one has claimed credit for these changes. At this same convention, several trump officials met with Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Kislyak, presumably in a social setting. However, no one disclosed these meetings, despite Russian intervention being a major story at the time. This same month, trump looked to the cameras at a press conference and invited the Russian government to hack more emails and find Hillary’s “missing 33,000 emails.”
IN SEPTEMBER 2016, then-Sen Sessions met again with Kislyak, and discussed “several issues,” which included Ukraine policy and sanctions. Note that Sessions, although a Senator, had no other interests in Russia, and was not chairman of the committee he claimed to be communicating for. Nothing else was determined. This same month, ABC reported that Russian hackers were targeting digitized voter registration systems. In fact, the FBI issued a warning to all state election offices that hackers were trying to break through, and had succeeded in some places. These intrusions went into voter information, not actual voting equipment.
In October 2016, a second document by the Russian intel think tank advocated a switch to amplifying the rumor of voter fraud, when it was assumed Clinton was going to win. The timing of Trumps insistence on this is probably coincidental, but still odd.
In December 2016, post-election, trumps son in law, Jared Kushner, and future NSA chief Michael Flynn met with several Russian officials, and had discussions regarding sanctions, Ukraine policy and other geopolitical issues. These meetings happened at trump tower. Neither man disclosed these meetings, although if they were innocuous, you wonder why. Kushner also met with the head of Vnesheconombank, a Russian bank, led by a former Russian security officer, which had been financing the Rosneft/Exxon deal years earlier, and is currently under US sanctions. These events were observed by US intel doing work on foreign agents.
IN JANUARY 2017, trump announced his cabinet picks, including – Shockingly? – Tillerson for Sec of State and Wilber Ross for Commerce Sec. Ross was a business partner of the principal owner of Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft. He was also vice chairman of Bank of Cyprus, the bank long suspected of helping to launder billions in Russian oligarch money. Both of these cabinet secretaries have personal, financial interest in sanctions being lifted. Tillerson alone has over $200 million in Exxon stock. This same month, Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, met with a Russian envoy, facilitated by the Prince of the United Arab Emirates. The intent was to establish a back channel of communication between the world leaders. It was also at this time the DOJ informed the trump team that Flynn had been picked up in December on intercepts of foreign calls, discussing sanctions. Flynn adamantly denied this. He continued to operate as the National Security Advisor, despite the trump team knowing of his dishonesty. Flynn resigned weeks later, but only after an incessant news cycle begun by a Washington Post story revealing the dishonesty.
IN FEBRUARY, Attorney General Sessions recused himself from any investigations after it was revealed that he met twice, once publicly, and privately with Russia’s top diplomat during the election, despite denying contact during his confirmation hearings. He admitted the sloppiness of his answers, and apologized, before recusing himself. He also confirmed they discussed Ukraine “and other issues,” but not the election. The story of Russian propaganda was a major story at the time of their meeting, but Sessions says it never came up.
IN MARCH, House Rep David Nunes, as chairman of the House Intel cmte, was called to the White House late at night to review intel regarding which government agents looked into trump investigations. The next day, he returned to the White House to “reveal” to the president what he had discovered… at the White House. The oddity of the ordeal led to his recusal from the House investigation into trump’s Russia connections. Yes, for those that are counting, that’s one firing/resignation and two high ranking recusals after only a month of the presidency. At the end of the month, testimony at a senate intel cmte hearing reveals that intel agencies observed the Russian campaign to include hacking leaks favorably to trump, dozens of fake news websites, instruction to state media to run trump-friendly stories, and a concerted social media effort both through hyper targeting of anti-Clinton propaganda and thousands of paid bots to roam Twitter and Facebook to support trump and attack Clinton.
IN APRIL, Ukraine media and elected leadership reported confirmation of not only a financial ledger, but also bank transactions previously denied by Paul Manafort for lobbying work he had done on behalf of Russian interests in Ukraine election influence. After initially denying it, he now admits the transactions occurred but dismissed the implication of a connection to the election. Some articles reveal that Manafort waged a lobbying effort for months, including personal visits, phone calls and letters delivered to trump, wanting to be part of the trump campaign.
SO, WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
The connections are undeniable, but the purposes of them are not entirely clear, or the order of who sought out what, and when. Notice that I didn’t even detail the controversial dossier compiled by retired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, first for Republican opponents, then for Democrats. Because, even though important events and timelines have consistently been confirmed, it’s not necessary to ingest every rumor. The incontrovertible facts alone should be enough to scare the heebee geebees out of us. And what I detailed above is fairly solid, and substantiated. So, the timeline is full, and at times confusing, but the working theory I’ve developed is this:
In 2014, Russia invaded Crimea, and annexed it. Since their political efforts to change the country had failed, They engaged in a proxy war with Ukraine’s existing government over the next several years. (Efforts we now know were orchestrated by US political impresario, Paul Manafort. Coincidence?) During this crisis, the United States passed sanctions on Russia that instantly killed a $500 billion oil field project in the Arctic Ocean that required American engineers, a partnership with Exxon, and an international market. The sanctions ended this, creating a heartbreaking stalemate for several billionaire investors, on both sides.
Starting years ago, knowing the Republican Party was likely to win the 2016 election, and Clinton – a Putin enemy – was expected to be the Democratic candidate, Russia began a long term plan of sniffing out potential contacts in the US foreign policy and lobbying world to help them influence the election, and help elect the candidate they preferred. They had several assets to begin moving. We know this included at least Carter Page and Paul Manafort. A favorable election result would have several geopolitical advantages, from their preferred crackdown on Islamist terrorism in and outside Russia, Middle East/Syrian policy, the Ukrainian civil war, to the sanctions that killed the $500 billion oil deal.
When the objective was decided, and the chess pieces began coming together, the necessary moves became apparent. Between social media, the Bannon media empire, the hacking scandal and the inherent weakness of Clinton as a candidate, the election came down to 70-80,000 votes in three states.
As a Russian apologist, it makes total sense. But as an American, it does not. No oil deal, or foreign policy change is worth partnering with a century-old adversary to influence our voting population, let alone in a manner more aggressive than the liberal media bias conservatives have long complained about. This time, the dynamic was reversed on us, and “fake news” was coined to describe the torrent of fake news sites and social media trolls on OUR SIDE who peddled conspiracy theories for months.
At this time, I don’t believe Russia coordinated directly with the trump campaign, nor did they need to. But I feel confident that they worked hard at confirming their plans, and what trump could and would do, as well as developing their methods through back channels.
It does appear that Russia has gone dark, backed off, and that these revelations have so badly publicized the Russian interference that any chance of repealing sanctions seem nil. But Americans deserve to know the answers to the new questions that are generated, almost daily. And, thanks to the free press, we are learning more and more. We should be grateful for that, not angry at the messenger.
As for the election, in the end, a fraction of one percent of voters were influenced by bad information, and emotional peer pressure, and it appears Russia knew exactly who these voters were, where they lived, and how to influence them. The whole Supreme Court argument was persuasive as well, despite the fact that we had a Republican Senate. It worked. Anyone who denies it are likely the same people who complain about a “liberal” media, or the “Clinton news network.” Why the hypocrisy? If they believe liberals can influence voters but Russia can’t, that says a lot about their cognitive ability.
Welcome to the 21st century, and the new conservative world in the era of trump. Facts don’t matter, confirmation bias is king, and detractors are “trolls.” God bless William F Buckley, or Andrew Breitbart, who would have flipped over tables and torn down the convention curtains over this. Intellectualism has no place in politics these days, which is why I’ve mostly resigned lately to posts about music and dancing Corgis. It’s refreshing. But I’ll be damned if in four years, we allow another third rate adversary to influence so many of us again, and make it embarrassing to be a Conservative Republican. We must stay vigilant.
Until then, I’ll take the wins where I can get them, but I’ll never stop being consistent: dig for, and stand for truth, always, no matter who, or what party it involves. Even if it costs me a few hundred Facebook friends.