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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What the Russians wanted

My posts here are usually designed to provide a long-term perspective on events, not add to the cacophony about the news of the day, but there are times when the major media seem so brain dead that I feel I have something different to contribute.  It seems pretty clear to me what was going on last summer, but no one seems to be paying very much attention.

The Russian government and people have been hurt significantly--although hardly critically--by the American sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea, and other measures taken in response to human rights violations within Russia.  As the election campaign unfolded, they knew that Hillary Clinton would continue or even increase the sanctions.  On the other hand, Donald Trump had long-standing ties to Russia.  It is also possible,. according to news reports, that Russian intelligence possessed compromising information about Trump.  In any case, the Russian government had some reason to believe that Trump might be willing to ease the sanctions.

Now while I doubt that any of the participants in the famous meeting of a year ago among Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Natalia Vesenitskaya has been completely frank about their discussions as yet, the emails that surfaced yesterday, combined with Trump Jr.'s testimony, give a reasonable picture of what was up.  As the New York Times points out today, Ms. Vesenitskaya is a trusted Moscow insider with many high-level connections.   Working through the publicist Rob Goldstone, she offered dirt on Hillary Clinton developed by the Russian government to the Trump campaign in order to arrange a high-level meeting.  Such dirt may well have been discussed at the meeting, although no one has confirmed that as yet.  But in the course of the meeting, she turned the discussion to specific sanctions against Russians--the so-called Magnitsky Act--which she hoped a Trump Administration might lift.  She also brought up the ban on US adoptions of Russian children that Putin had imposed in retaliation for that act, in effect proposing a deal, and confirming, critically, that she was at least claiming to be acting on behalf of the Russian government.

Now this was not the only instance we have discovered of negotiations for a quid pro quo between teh Trump campaign and Russian officials during the campaign.  Last March my brother Charles brought some tweets from a statistician (not a journalist) named Carolyn O to my attention, in which she demonstrated the results of simple triangulation.  Here is what I said here then:

"On September 2, President Obama met with President Putin at a G-8 Summit.  They discussed US sanctions against Russia that Obama had imposed the day before, and Putin described them as an obstacle to cooperation between the two nations.

"Five days later, on September 7, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, suggested for the first time that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee.

"On the very next day, September 8, Trump told a Russian TV correspondent that he did not believe Russia was behind the hack, and Sessions met with Kislyak. [n.b.: This was the meeting that Sessions did not disclose in his confirmation hearing.] Trump also said publicly that, 'If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS?' And on that same day, Trump and Pence made a whole series of statements praising Putin's leadership style. and on the same day, Tass announced, 'Moscow expects Washington to display political will on building good relations with Russia after the presidential election," quoting Dimitry Peskov.'"

The July meeting, it seems, may have been the start of something.  By September, it looks as if a deal was in operation.  Russia would continue releasing hacked emails, and perhaps trying to hurt the Clinton campaign in other ways.  Trump would try to exonerate the Russians for the hack (as he still intermittently continues to do.) He and his surrogates would also promise better relations.

Trump did, of course, win the election, but the clear evidence that the Russians had hacked the DNC and the evidence of contacts between them and his campaign have made it difficult to carry out the deal.  Early last month it seemed that the Russians had won one victory since the Trump Administration was reported to be ready to allow them to re-open two listening posts in the US that the Obama Administration had ordered closed.  And the President himself still speaks intermittently about the possibility of more cooperation with Russia.  The Congress, however, has moved to impose more sanctions.

The Trump campaign, in short, appears to have secured help from a foreign government that carried out the modern equivalent of a Watergate break-in to help it win the election, in exchange for unknown promises of better relations which it has not been able to keep.  The situation would truly be parallel to Watergate were any evidence to surface that the Russians carried out the DNC attack after discussing it with the Trump campaign, but there does not seem to be any such evidence as yet.  The Russian hacks began perhaps a year before the meeting that is in the news this week.  A careful analysis in today's New York Times tends toward the conclusion that what has been revealed this week does not rise to the level of a crime.

Putin's investment in Trump has already paid off handsomely in the form of disarray within the NATO alliance and a general loss of respect for the US around the world.  But his government has not gotten what it wanted.  This raises the question of whether he can, or would, turn to sticks as well as carrots--perhaps threats to release compromising information about Trump, which a respected retired British intelligence officer concluded that he probably had.  The real story, in any case, is about the evolution of a long relationship between Trump and Russian interests, before, during, and perhaps after his campaign.  Given the level of indiscretion revealed in the recently released email chain, more evidence seems very likely to emerge.


Bruce Wilder said...

This is a "scandal" in blind pursuit of an actual scandal and you may be right that one or more may be found. But, why practice politics in this way?

Trump is enough of a political amateur and his impulses reactionary enough that one would think Democrats could find plenty to attack him on, on policy. Instead of buying tougher Russia sanctions by giving Republican health care proposals free passage thru the Senate's procedural morass. Unless they do not want to talk policy substance, just as Clinton wanted to appeal to suburban Republican women, while ignoring the consequences of the policies of financial deregulation, "free trade", mass incarceration, holding down wages, and perpetual war her brand name was attached to.

Looking for an explanation for Clinton's election loss in Russia is very convenient for the Democratic politicians and operatives who have destroyed the Party and left the country exposed to the power of right-wing Republicans at every level and in every branch of government. Because Podesta's emails were so exciting! And, RT America has such a huge audience!

At some point, one has to ask what drives this uncritical nonsense? (And has been driving it at least since the Clinton impeachment twenty years ago.)

Bozon said...

Great stuff.

More or less what one might have expected to have been going on, behind the scenes...

Regarding this passage, I tend to think that Putin has gotten what he had wanted out of this farce:

"Putin's investment in Trump has already paid off handsomely in the form of disarray within the NATO alliance and a general loss of respect for the US around the world. But his government has not gotten what it wanted..."

I tend to see sanctions re Crimea, and the likelihood of Hillary increasing them, as a real non issue going forward. Perhaps I am quite wrong.

My own view, big picture, is that Russia should have taken Crimea and should keep it, as far as I am concerned, that the US should forget about human rights in Russia or anywhere else, and pay what little focussed attention it has ever been able to pay to anything to other more pressing matters instead, while it still can, here at the end of the West...

I don't of course expect what I suggest here to have any chance of actually happening.

All the best

Bozon said...


Re What the Russians wanted

Daogerous speculations here for the leaders of both sides....
Here's an allegorical post, from my site, December 16, 2016:

(One might also call it Leopard Man Dialogue.)

"Cannibal Politics:

General Butt Naked (A Leopard Man): "How you know we hacked you?"

Ogunda, (A Crocodile Man): "We hacked two men, they confessed."

General: "I cannot tell this here; tribe will hack me."

Ogunda: "Nor I; I will hack my men who hacked your men."

General: "More meat!"

Ogunda: "More meat!"

This post dedicated to Newt Gingrich"

All the best

sglover said...

The hidebound, relentless austerity policies crafted by Dr. Schauble have a helluva lot more to do with "NATO disarray" than anything Trump could dream of. "Electronic Watergate" this was not, unless the Watergate front desk had some doofus Podesta stand-in, handing out keys to Nixon's crew when they walked in the lobby. I have remarked before -- with specifics -- on the hazards of your neverending, wide-eyed acceptance of anything coming out of the NYT. Finally, I doubt very very much that Trump's amateur-hour oppo research in Moscow is anything close to unprecedented. The 1980 "October Surprise" comes to mind. Or Nixon's feelers with the Thieu regime in '68. I'll bet there have been all sorts of shady "understandings" with our wonderful friends in Tel Aviv and Riyadh, involving both Republican AND Democratic campaigns.

Liberals are well on their way to accomplishing something I would've thought impossible: They might actually inflate the casino huckster's stature, via their myopic and brain-dead All Russia All The Time obsession.