The thoughts of a journalist/libertarian–conservative/Christian husband, father, Eagle Scout and aficionado of obscure rock music. Thoughts herein are only the author’s and not necessarily the opinions of his family, friends, neighbors, church members or past, present or future employers.
Fox News contributor George Will says GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will not release his tax returns because they may show “he is deeply involved in dealing with Russia oligarchs.”
The claim — which Will could not support with any tangible proof — was made to Bret Baier on Fox News’s “Special Report” live from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday night. The topic was raised after some Democratic Party officials, including presumptive Democratic presidential nomineeHillary Clinton‘s campaign manager, Robby Mook, attempted to connect the Republican presidential nominee to a leak of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails.
The Friday release by WikiLeaks of those emails, which appear to show an effort by DNC officials to lead a campaign against Clinton’s primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.), led to the resignation of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who will step down after the convention.
“Both the campaign chair and anybody you talk to, including Sen. [Chris] Murphy [D-Conn.] would not go down that road once pressed on the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign,” said Baier. “But they have thrown it out there. George?”
“Well, it’s the sort of thing we might learn if we saw the candidate’s tax returns,” Will responded. “Perhaps one more reason why we’re not seeing his tax returns — because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent, it’s probably the reasonable surmise.”
Will was not making an out-of-the-ether statement. Josh Marshall says:
Over the last year there has been a recurrent refrain about the seeming bromance between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. More seriously, but relatedly, many believe Trump is an admirer and would-be emulator of Putin’s increasingly autocratic and illiberal rule. But there’s quite a bit more to the story. At a minimum, Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. …
Let’s start with the basic facts. There is a lot of Russian money flowing into Trump’s coffers and he is conspicuously solicitous of Russian foreign policy priorities.
I’ll list off some facts.
1. All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.
2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here’s a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration …
Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
3. One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump’s largest recent endeavors. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. Most attention about the project has focused on the presence of a twice imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to the Russian criminal underworld. But that’s not the most salient part of the story. As the Times put it,
“Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a “strategic partner,” along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.”
Another suit alleged the project “occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia.”
Sounds completely legit.
Read both articles: After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you’re keeping score at home: no, that’s not reassuring.
4. Then there’s Paul Manafort, Trump’s nominal ‘campaign chair’ who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump’s campaign.
5. Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you’re not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom’s role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin’s policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.
6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump. As Frank Foer explains here, this fits a pattern with how Putin has sought to prop up rightist/nationalist politicians across Europe, often with direct or covert infusions of money. In some cases this is because they support Russia-backed policies; in others it is simply because they sow discord in Western aligned states. Of course, Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, not only in the abstract but often for the authoritarian policies and patterns of government which have most soured his reputation around the world.
7. Here’s where it gets more interesting. This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump’s larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM’s Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there’s a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it’s worth (and it’s not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue – in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform – speaks volumes.
This does not mean Trump is controlled by or in the pay of Russia or Putin. It can just as easily be explained by having many of his top advisors having spent years working in Putin’s orbit and being aligned with his thinking and agenda. But it is certainly no coincidence. Again, in the context of near total indifference to the platform and willingness to let party activists write it in any way they want, his team zeroed in on one fairly obscure plank to exert maximum force and it just happens to be the one most important to Putin in terms of US policy. …
To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He’s the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out ‘what’s going on’ as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.
Donald Trump said he never met Vladimir Putin in a news conference Wednesday, contradicting a boast he’d made during the Republican primary debates about getting to know the Russian president.
“He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said thank you very much to the newspaper and that was the end of it. I never met Putin,” Trump said.
Trump, who has complimented Putin before, said that he would treat the dictator “firmly” but have their two countries be “friendly.”
On the GOP debate stage in November, though, Trump bragged about meeting the Russian leader.
“I got to know him very well because we were both on ’60 Minutes,’ we were stablemates, and we did very well that night,” Trump said.
Time reported that for that edition of “60 Minutes,” Trump was interviewed in the United States by CBS host Charlie Rose, who then traveled to Russia to interview Putin. The two appeared on the same segment of the long-running docu-series.
Trump contradicted something he previously said? Insert shocked face here!
Wait! There’s more! Sean Davis focuses on the most controversial statement of Trump’s news conference:
After taunting Hillary Clinton by asking Russian hackers to release 30,000 e-mails she deleted, Donald Trump finally forced Clinton’s campaign to admit that her unsanctioned e-mail server scheme was a “national security issue.” …
Trump’s comments about Russian hacking followed numerous reports this week that Russian hackers compromised the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) servers and then leaked thousands of e-mails sent by top Democratic staffers. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign her position as a result of the leaks. …
On Wednesday morning, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump asked Russia to turn over the tens of thousands of e-mails deleted by Hillary Clinton. The scandal-plagued former Secretary of State maintained for months that the e-mails were personal, not work-related, and that they were in no way classified.
But in a press release issued on Wednesday, Clinton’s top campaign spokesman suddenly declared those e-mails to be a “national security issue”:
This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent. That’s not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security.
Contrary to Sullivan’s assertion about the unprecedented nature of Russian meddling in U.S. elections, former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) begged the Soviets to help him get rid of President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
You can certainly tell that the Democrats are increasingly rattled about the Wikileaks of Democratic National Committee emails. The Washington Post reports:
Activists and campaign officials, anxious about what leaks may be yet to come, also worried about the alleged involvement of the Russian government, with campaign officials suggesting that the Kremlin was releasing the documents to damage Clinton’s candidacy. National security experts, while cautious about leaping to premature conclusions, warned of the possibility of a significant escalation in an ongoing information war.
If the Russians were behind the leaks, said former CIA director Michael Hayden, “they’re clearly taking their game to another level. It would be weaponizing information.” He added: “You don’t want a foreign power affecting your election. We have laws against that.”
On Monday, the FBI formally acknowledged that it is looking into the DNC hack. The agency has been probing the matter for months and on Monday said publicly that it will “investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.” The FBI announcement followed the stunning allegation by the Clinton campaign Sunday that the Russian government was behind the release of damaging documents on the WikiLeaks website as part of a ploy to help Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, called the suggestions “absurd” and suggested that Democrats were looking to shift attention away from damaging information about the party’s conduct during the primary campaign.
On Monday, fallout from the hack also reverberated at the Kremlin, where a spokesman declined to comment on the hack except to refer reporters to comments by Trump’s son, Don Jr., calling the allegations part of a pattern of “lie after lie.”
“Mr. Trump Jr. has already strongly responded” to the Clinton campaign’s claims, the Russian spokesman said, according to the news agency Tass.
The founder of WikiLeaks and its current top editor, Julian Assange, told the Democracy Now radio show Monday that he would not discuss the source of the data.
“In relation to sourcing, I can say some things. (A), we never reveal our sources, obviously. That’s what we pride ourselves on. And we won’t in this case, either. But no one knows who our source is.” Assange has said the release Friday was the first in a series. …
The email releases continued to cause anxiety among Democratic officials as the party gathered for its convention in Philadelphia.
Most unnerving to activists here is the uncertainty over what may come next.
Former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told The Post that his email account was hacked recently, but he said he had no indication that the hack originated overseas or was a matter of concern to law enforcement.
Former White House chief of staff William M. Daley, attending the convention, called the Russian hack of DNC emails “pretty frightening.”
Given Russia’s sophistication in this realm, Daley said that it would be reasonable to conclude that President Vladimir Putin and his government are behind the email leak in an effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
“I don’t think anybody would be surprised if Putin would try to affect the election,” Daley said in an interview Monday. “That’s like the old ‘Casablanca’ — there’s gambling in the casino. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Period. I think anybody who dismisses that is living in fairy land here.”
An idiot writer for Slate (but I repeat myself) claimed that the DNC email hack was worse than Watergate, and said the way to defeat Putin and the Russians was to vote for Hillary Clinton. That assertion contains enough hypocrisy to sink a battleship, identified by David French:
It’s hard not to resist schadenfreude, but we must. After all, this is the same progressive movement that mocked Mitt Romney’s accurate declaration of Russia’s ambitions and intentions during the 2012 election. But now that the DNC is under siege, we face a national emergency. Better late than never, I suppose. On the list of threats to our national interests, I’d rank the DNC hack well below Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, annexation of the Crimea, threats against NATO-allied Baltic states, and aggressive assertions of power in the Middle East, but meddling in American presidential politics is serious nonetheless.
And it’s a matter of concern that the Putin government may view Trump favorably enough to intervene on his behalf to humiliate his opponent. It’s fair to wonder, what does Putin either like about Trump or hate about Hillary? Or is Putin merely seeking to cause chaos, and the DNC servers were a target of opportunity? Spare me any explanation that Putin would ratchet up international tensions merely because Trump “respects” him or has said nice things about him. Putin is a cold-eyed calculator who plays an old-school great power political game — from the line of thinking that says that nations don’t have “friends,” only interests. If Putin is intervening in the American election, he’s pursuing Russian interests, not Trump interests. But why?
Add the Wikileaks data dump to interesting research indicating that at least some online pro-Trump Twitter accounts appear to be Russian in origin (this isn’t news to those of us who’ve been targeted by the alt-right — it’s plain that many of those accounts aren’t American), and the concern should only grow. Again, I don’t claim to know why Putin seems to be intervening to aid Trump, only that for now that appears to be the Russian strategy. If the goal is sheer disruption, however, then he could shift his fire at any time. If the goal is to truly aid Trump, I’d be surprised if this was the last Russian surprise of the election.
But at least now — on this one thing — most progressives and conservatives are united. Putin’s Russia is, in fact, a geopolitical threat.
The Washington Post reminded us last year that “It’s been over five years since the United States and Russia vowed to ‘reset’ their relationship.”
On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, one country, and one authoritarian, was on everybody’s lips: Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
It was July 2016, sure, but it was also August 2008, when Democrats held their quadrennial convention in Denver against the backdrop of war between Russia and Georgia. Having been out of the White House for almost eight years, and energized in opposition to George W. Bush’s foreign policy, the donkey party had confident ideas about how to handle Putin.
“In recent days, we’ve once again seen the consequences of [Bush’s foreign policy] neglect with Russia’s challenge to the free and democratic country of Georgia,” soon-to-be Vice President Joe Biden said in his convention speech. “Barack Obama and I will end this neglect. We will hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we’ll help the people of Georgia rebuild.”
Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, a foreign policy advisor for Candidate Obama, insisted that “Russia really wants respect…We start off by treating Russia with respect.” And Obama himself vowed to “renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can…curb Russian aggression.”
Needless to say, Russian aggression during the Obama era has been anything but “curbed”—Putin annexed Crimea under military threat, and continues to be involved in low-level skirmishing in Ukraine. “Treating Russia with respect,” in the form of abandoning a planned NATO missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, didn’t put a dent in Putin’s scheming, particularly in the countries under question: Russian intelligence and state-owned entities have been pouring into former Warsaw Pact countries, effectively turning the once-free country of Hungary into a client state.
Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, teamed up with President Obama and Vice President Biden on a “reset” of Washington-Moscow relations, betting that newly installed President Dmitry Medvedev would prove to be a more willing diplomatic partner. Clinton even presented her counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with a bright red reset button in 2009. And no, I’m not making that up …
Conducting good foreign policy is hard, quickly exposing the limits of American omnipotence. But as the Democratic Party power structure cranks up for some full on Russia-baiting against both Donald Trump and Wikileaks, it’s worth remembering that very selling proposition of its presidential nominee is her experience conducting foreign policy, and that her track record with Russia was at best naïve and ineffectual. Democrats made the fatal mistake of believing their own campaign bluster, including the narcissistic notion that being different than George W. Bush was enough to be better.
Yes, the U.S. failures against Russia (as well as all our other foreign policy failures) are solely the responsibility of Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who we are to believe will be the tougher of the two candidates against Russia. The truth is neither Clinton nor Trump — and I’m pretty sure not Gary Johnson either — can adequately take on our new old enemy Russia.
30-year veteran of the news media (mostly as an ink-stained wretch). Husband, father of three, conservative/libertarian, Christian, Eagle Scout, listener of obscure rock music (including brass rock).
View all posts by Steve Prestegard