No matter how hard he tries (he actually doesn’t seem to be trying at all) Donald Trump cannot escape the Russia question.
It all started back in 2007 when Trump told Larry King he thought Putin was “doing a great job.”
Then, in his 2011 book Time to Get Tough, Trump again praised Putin writing,
“Putin has big plans for Russia. He wants to edge out its neighbors so that Russia can dominate oil supplies to all of Europe. Putin has also announced his grand vision: the creation of a ‘Eurasian Union’ made up of former Soviet nations that can dominate the region. I respect Putin and the Russians but cannot believe our leader allows them to get away with so much…Hats off to the Russians…Obama’s plan to have Russia stand up to Iran was a horrible failure that turned America into a laughingstock.”
In 2013 he tweeted this:
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
In 2014 he tweeted this:
America is at a great disadvantage. Putin is ex-KGB, Obama is a community organizer. Unfair.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2014
That same year Trump said he met Putin in Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant and that he (Putin) “could not have been nicer.”
In 2015, Trump responded to praise from Putin by saying “it is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”
In 2016 he tweeted this:
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
The red hue subtly emitting from Trump’s campaign grew significantly when he hired Paul Manafort. Remember him, the guy who worked with the Ukraine and Russia for over a decade? You know, the guy who worked for Viktor Yanukovych.
Viktor Yanukovych is the disgraced former president of the Ukraine—and a big Putin ally. He initially ran for president of the Ukraine in 2004 and had a rather rocky go of it. He was accused of fraud and voter intimidation, and many believe he had a hand in the possible poisoning of his opponent. Manafort was brought in to repair Yanukovych’s campaign but wasn’t able to secure the victory after a run-off election. However, Manafort worked for Yanukovych again on a 2006 on a parliamentary campaign and on his successful 2010 presidential run. Yanukovych was forced out of office by violent protests four years later, and escaped to Russia with the help of Putin, opening the door for Russia’s unlawful annexation of Crimea.
Manafort was initially hired by the Trump campaign to help persuade delegates, but was promoted to campaign manager and chief strategist less than two months later. His tenure in that position, however, only lasted three months. Two weeks after Donald Trump called for the Russians to find Hillary’s emails, a ledger released by the New York Times showed that Manafort was paid 12.7 million by Yanukovych for his work. Manafort initially denied the claim but resigned five days later.
Fast forward to the hacking of the DNC, an operation allegedly conducted by the Russians as an attempt to damage the Clinton campaign thereby increasing Trump’s chances of victory. Now, it must be noted that while one could logically surmise that this was Russia’s intent and that they were the main proprietors of the hacking, there has been no concrete evidence released proving either of these claims.
Even so, the 15-page U.S. intelligence report asserted that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.”
Regardless of the lack of a smoking gun of any kind, these reports continue to build upon the narrative.
Enter: Rex Tillerson
When the former Exxon Mobil CEO was nominated for Secretary of State the fervor around the impending Trump administration and Russia reached its first fever pitch. Instead of trying to distance himself from the story and the alleged connection, Trump nominated an American who had a particularly close relationship with Vladimir Putin for years. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Friends and associates said few US citizens are closer to Mr. Putin than Mr. Tillerson.” Not really an effective way to tamp the flames.
And we’re just getting started.
Wilbur Ross, the new commerce secretary has his own ties to the Kremlin, and most notably, the man at the helm. As James S. Henry reported, Ross was a significant investor in the Bank of Cyprus as well as its Vice Chairman. The Bank of Cyprus is well known for being an offshore safe-zone for Russian cash, and Ross’s co-chair was allegedly appointed by Vladimir Putin. Ross also worked with Russia on an investment fund in the 90s for the Clinton administration.
Before his inauguration, Trump stated he could be open to lifting the sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration.
Then, in February, a report was released concerning wiretapped phone conversations between Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In the conversations, Flynn urged patience in regards to the recent sanctions and spoke about a new relationship with the incoming administration. When questioned by the FBI about the topics covered in these conversations, Flynn said that sanctions were not discussed. He told Vice President Mike Pence the same thing. When it was revealed that sanctions were in fact discussed, his already questionable reputation soured completely. He resigned on February, 13th.
Just a few short weeks later, another member of Trump’s inner circle came under fire for lying about meeting with the very same Russian ambassador. The Washington Post reported newly-minted attorney general Jeff Sessions met with Sergey Kislyak twice last year. Sessions was a senator at the time, so unlike Flynn, the Logan Act, which prohibits civilians from interacting with foreign governments is not an issue. But during his confirmation hearing, Sessions was questioned about the Trump cabinets’ Russian connections and responded saying “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” So he lied about meeting with Kislyak. As a member of the Armed Services Committee and a senator, he was well within his rights to conduct such a meeting. So why the secrecy? Perhaps he thought if he opened that door, he’d have to deal with a cacophonous bombardment of follow-up questions that he simply didn’t want to answer.
Regardless, like most of these connections, there is nothing here that directly implies collusion. There is nothing overtly treasonous in any of the findings thus far. But there is clearly a pattern and a growing narrative that cannot be ignored.
We are either at the tip of the iceberg, and a smattering of bombshell reports will hit the wire in the next few weeks and months, or various, substance-free transgressions will continue to leak out, perpetually denting but never fully dismantling the administration.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.