“Does anybody really think Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump?” Trump has repeatedly used this line when confronted with his unfathomable admiration for Vladimir Putin. It is really a simple question to answer since the murderous thug who has plundered Russia of its wealth, clearly preferred Trump to Clinton.
During his campaign, Trump brazenly encouraged Russia to intervene to aid his election by releasing hacked Hillary Clinton emails. During a press conference in Florida on July 27, 2016, Trump made this request: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
With or without Trump’s knowledge, Russia had already signed up with his team. The unclassified report by the Intelligence Community entitled, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” reveals that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” and it included these findings in part:
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.
In trying to influence the U.S. election, we assess the Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime.
Putin publicly pointed to the Panama Papers disclosure and the Olympic doping scandal as U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia, suggesting he sought to use disclosures to discredit the image of the United States and cast it as hypocritical.
Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.
We assess Putin, his advisers, and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump over Secretary Clinton. Putin publicly indicated a preference for President-elect Trump’s stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine. Putin publicly contrasted the President-elect’s approach to Russia with Secretary Clinton’s ‘aggressive rhetoric.’
Putin has had many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Putin, Russian officials, and other pro-Kremlin pundits stopped publicly criticizing the US election process as unfair almost immediately after the election because Moscow probably assessed it would be counterproductive to building positive relations.
The Kremlin’s campaign aimed at the U.S. election featured disclosures of data obtained through Russian cyber operations; intrusions into U.S. state and local electoral boards; and overt propaganda. Russian intelligence collection both informed and enabled the influence campaign.
The report states: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.”
After the election, more questions have arisen concerning Trump associates and their communications with Russia. These question have largely centered on Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The following is a timeline of recent events.
Nov. 18, 2016: Trump names Flynn as his national security adviser. Flynn is a retired three-star general who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from July 2011 until April 2014 when he was fired by President Obama. In December, 2015, Flynn took part in the 10th anniversary celebrations of Russia Today, the Russian-state-backed television network, sitting at the same table as President Putin. He was part of a panel discussion in Moscow and was paid for his participation. Flynn led the chants of “Lock Her Up!” at the Republican National Convention saying of Hillary Clinton: “You know why we’re saying that? We’re saying that because if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth of what (Clinton) did I would be in jail today.”
Dec. 29,2016: President Obama announces sanctions on Russia for interfering in our elections. The sanctions include expelling 35 Russian diplomats and the closing of Russian compounds in Maryland and New York that were suspected of spying. Of the sanctions, Trump said: “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” That same day, Flynn places 5 phone calls to the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Unknown to Flynn, these calls are intercepted by U.S. Intelligence.
Dec. 30, 2016: The Russian Foreign Minister proposes to expel 35 U.S. diplomats in retaliation. Later that same day, Vladimir Putin said: “We will not expel anyone. While keeping the right for retaliatory measures, we will not descend to the level of ‘kitchen,’ irresponsible diplomacy.” Trump praises this decision, tweeting: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin). I always knew he was very smart!”
Jan. 12, 2017: The Washington Post reports on the telephone calls between Flynn and Kislyak and wonders if the sanctions were discussed. If so the conversation could be a violation of the Logan Act which prohibits unauthorized citizens from undermining the foreign policy of the American government.
Jan 13-15, 2017: On numerous occasions the incoming White House press secretary, chief of staff and vice president appear on television and give assurances that Flynn did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
Jan. 20, 2017: Trump becomes president and Flynn takes over as national security adviser.
Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs the White House Counsel that Flynn misled administration officials about his discussion of sanctions with Kislyak and warns that Flynn is potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn tells the Washington Post that sanctions did not come up in his discussions with Kislyak.
Feb. 9, 2017: Flynn’s spokesman tells the Post that while Flynn “had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Feb. 10, 2017: Trump tells reporters, he is unfamiliar with the Post’s report about Flynn.
Feb. 13, 2017: Flynn is forced to resign saying: “I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.
Underlying all of this intrigue and deception is the question: What did the president know and when did he know it? Did Trump direct his national security adviser to discuss sanctions policy with the Russian ambassador or not?
More importantly, does Trump have any connection with Russia, business or otherwise, that could affect his decisions going forward? An unverified intelligence file compiled by a well respected former British intelligence agent indicates the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It also contains allegations that Russia may hold compromising information on Trump that would make him susceptible to blackmail. This may be pure fiction but the national security of the United States is at stake so these charges must be fully investigated.
More than most, Trump should understand the concern. He claims to have personally investigated President Obama’s birth certificate and now the legitimacy of his own presidency requires that he divulge his ties to Russia and release his tax returns.
This is one of his many statements concerning President Obama’s birth: “I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding. He spent $2 million in legal fees trying to get away from this issue, why wouldn’t he just solve it? I wish he would because if he doesn’t, it’s one of the greatest scams in the history of politics and in the history period. You are not allowed to be a president if you’re not born in this country. Right now, I have real doubts.”