Michael Isikoff and David Corn are among the very top reporters who have been covering the Trump Russian scandal. Corn is the reporter who initially broke the Dossier story (no, it was not Buzzfeed), and Isikoff broke the story about US intelligence looking into a Trump-Kremlin connection via Carter Page. Since this initial work, these two reporters have been, along with dozens of others, putting into the public view the famous ice-berg tip that we all know Robert Mueller has the rest of hidden away somewhere. Continue reading Best Book on Trump-Russian Scandal
My advice to students I’ve had the chance to supervise is extensive, but includes the phrase “look both ways.” In that case, I refer specifically to library research. This worked better when most of our research was done using dead tree fragments. Here’s how it works. You find out about a book of interest. You go find it on the shelf in the library. Instead of just pulling it off the shelf and checking it into your carrel, you stop for a moment and look both ways. There is a good chance that the books right next to the one you found are by the same author, or about the same topic, or in some other way related. Indeed, you may have located a useful source, the one you sought, but didn’t know that the same author also did research in exactly the area you are working, wrote the classic tome on it, and in fact, that classic tome is what you thought your thesis was going to be on based on this great idea you had at the bar last night! Continue reading When investigating Trump, Look Both Ways
To understand the Trump-Russia scandal, I believe it is necessary to step way back and take the very long view. I’m not talking about going back to early 2016, or even the year before. Much farther.
I’m not going to make a claim in this post as to what happened and who did what. Rather, I’d like to present a hypothesis, a single interpretation of events, that may or may not be correct, but that is based on this long view.
Whatever did actually happen, it did involve, or somehow exclude, Donald Trump and a number of individuals with whom he has had long term relationships, and Vladimir Putin and individuals with whom he has had long term relationships, and of course, an overlapping set of individuals who fit in both categories.
The Trump real estate business, centered mainly on Donald Trump itself, involved Roger Stone, Paul Manafort,and others. There are allegations of connections between Trump and the mob, sufficient to get at least one project denied in 1987. Manafort and Stone had long time connections with Russian interests and individuals, going way back in time, and there were numerous Trump-family-Russian deals over a long period of time, not just recently.
Deutche Bank, which apparently has served as a Russian Oligarch money laundering facility, took on Trump’s business as far back as 1998, when Trump started to run out of places to borrow money. Subsequently, the Russian state owned bank, Putin’s personal facility bailed the troubled Trump enterprise out of at least one financial hole.
Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, and several others are relative newcomers to the drama, and because their involvement and possible activities is both recent and confused, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.
The short version is this. According to this entirely hypothetical model, Trump was involved with a wide range of shady characters doing shady deals for decades. Putin and his Oligarch friends were involved with a wide range of shady characters doing shady deals for decades. There was significant overlap between the two groups.
Somewhere along the way, Putin, with Manafort’s help, started to become increasingly engaged in messing with the politics of other countries, and at some point developed, or came upon, a method of using emerging social media to hack elections. It was probably not difficult for Putin to make the shift from collecting American billionaires to using one of them specifically, Trump, to develop a US presidential campaign, on the off chance that this could disrupt American politics, back around 2015. It was then not too difficult to take the next step, realizing that Trump might actually win, to hack the election and put a man he had worked with, indirectly and possibly directly, and on whom (we hypothesize) he held considerable Kompromat, in the white house.
While these latter moves are perhaps the most important, and most urgent, they are small steps from what seems to have been going on all along, constituting minor adjustments in a larger over-arching program of money making, money laundering, and manipulation oligarch style.
And the engine that drove this process, the methodology by which Putin ultimately came to own several American operatives including, according to this model,Trump, was something out of a movie based on a Tom Clancy novel. In order to understand that engine, I offer a parable.
The Parable of Mark
Imagine an evil drug dealer named Alexey. He has a customer named Mark. Mark doesn’t think he is an addict, but he is, and that gets worse for him over time. Mark likes to buy 10 bags of product, then he marks them up and sells eight to his friends so that he can do two bags and use the profit on the other eight to cover his costs of each buy. Most of the time. Sometimes he parties with friends Nastia and Sasha, and they go through three or four bags. But that’s OK, because his other friend, Dima always loans Mark money when he needs it, so he can get more drugs from Alexey. And Alexey always has product.
Over time, if Mark was more smart and less obsessed with meeting his own desires to party and get stoned, he could have kept himself in drugs and made a steady profit over time. After a few years, Mark did manage to stash away about $500 bucks, but not the few thousand bucks he might have made had he made the right moves.
Meanehile,Mark became deeper and deeper in debt to Dima, and by the way, also to Alexey, who also helped Mark out now and then when he was down on cash. There was also that time when Mark got busted because someone claimed to see him dealing on a street corner, and Alexey provided an alibi for him. That court case was still pending, and Mark was hoping Alexey would remember to show up and give his alibi to the judge next month. Oh, and by the way, Nastia and Sasha also loaned Mark some money now and then. Oh, and the person who dropped the dime on Mark? Mark does not know it, but it was Sasha.
So, after a few years, Mark had that 500 bucks stashed away, had been having plenty of fun, and just barely, stayed out of trouble.
But, he also owes Dima about $42,000, and another 15,000 or so to the others. He is in trouble with the law and reliant on Alexey to help him out, and lately Sasha and Nastia had been snubbing him.
Turns out that Dima, Mark’s banker, was Alexey’s brother. Sasha and Nastia were Alexey’s cousins. The judge in that open court case was Alexey’s father. And, they were all members of the same organized criminal gang with Alexey in charge.
Putting this another way, Mark was in the business of buying and selling a product, and financing the deals, and staying out of trouble, by interacting with the same exact person at every level and in every direction. Over time, with every transaction, instead of Mark having the opportunity to make a little money here, and a little product there, and to develop a reasonable if unsavory business model, at every juncture of events, Alexey turned the screw and brought Mark deeper and deeper into debt and dependency. Everybody was in on it, and Mark was the unwitting mark. As it were.
What is to be learned from this parable?
This is what Vladimir Putin and a handful of his associates, according to this hypothetical model, may have done to Donald Trump. Early on, Paul Manafort developed a relationship with Trump, and not long after, with Putin’s gang. His business with Russia was to develop ways for Putin to influence foreign governments, and eventually, elections. As early as 2000, Trump was being looked at by American conservatives as a potential presidential candidate. Over time Trump engaged in a considerable amount of Obama bashing, which served his white supremacist tendencies. Putin must have seen Trump as a potential asset, with the added bonus that they shared a racist view of life.
During this entire time multiple seemingly independent Russian entities engaged in business with Trump and his family, including a wide range of “Trump Tower” like projects, and other land deals. This also included banking and loaning money. Trump and his family were fully engaged in a money making machine much like the fictional Mark’s, buying and selling and borrowing and having fun, and Putin and his oligarch associates, using Manafort and other Americans as professional manipulators, were behind most of it, possibly all of it. Trump was buying and selling and borrowing, and meeting various prurient needs, all with the same guy, Puppet Master Putin. Or, so the theory goes.
So, when mid 2016 came along, Trump looked like a viable candidate. Republicans started to manage their role in the possible Trump presidency. Putin turned on his machine, manufactured and modeled out by Manafort and others, with the hope of electing Trump as President, and even before the election, manipulated the Republican platform. Members of the Trump Team were generally in contact with Russian agents, and various members of Washington’s Republican political elite, including multiple elected officials, became first transition advisers, then cabinet members or senior white house advisers after the election, and were brought into Club Russia to varying degrees. .
Much of the news that has developed over the last several months has focused on this period, from mid 2016 to the present. It has been difficult to understand what it all means. But if one steps back and starts by examining Trump and his associates in the 1980s, and Putin and his associates, some of which were already long time Trump associates, in the 2000’s, much of that confusion seems to melt away. Putin and Trump have both been playing a sort of long game, but with Putin much more in charge and, I would guess, with the much larger vision.
Trump looks like a chump through much of this, and he probably is. But he has had his own objectives mainly having to do with making money and being a bully, which Putin was able to garner into deep debt and probably blackmail. According to this hypothesis.
So in sum, three elements make up the model:
1) Trump plus American mob plus Russian mob plus Real Estate
2) Putin plus foreign political hacking and eventually election hacking
3) Decades old overlap between these two groups.
And, not entirely by chance but with a little luck for Putin, Trump rides the racist post Obama wave and becomes a viable candidate, then Putin puts him in.
If you want to go into the weeds on this, and you should, aside from watching every edition of the Rachel Maddow show for the last year or so, check out this handy dandy timeline.
It is very rare that I find myself yelling at the TV when Rachel Maddow is on. She is very good at historically contextualized nuanced well informed analyses. But when I watched a segment of last night’s show (on the Internet, I have no cable) I was shocked to see that she missed something really important. If, that is, it is real.
In the segment below, she makes the point that there are two “clear through lines” in the whole Trump thing. One is the love of Russia and Putin by Trump, his unwavering stance that Russia and Putin can do no wrong. The other is the consistent “vehement antipathy towards immigrants”, clearly part of a white supremacists strategy, with respect to who has been appointed to various positions, the things Trump has said, and the policies attempted. The difference, Rachel notes, between these two separate through lines is the apparent novelty and strangeness of the Russia theme, while the racist trope has deep roots with Trump.
Here, I think, is what she missed: They are not two separate through lines. They are two faces of the same coin. The Russian oligarchs are white supremacists too.
This is underscored by the news that just came out that Russian entities had purchased ads on Facebook during the last election, described this way: “Most of the ads focused on pumping politically divisive issues such as gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination.”
There are all sorts of reasons Russia wants to control the US presidency and state department. There seem to be some great economic benefits to Trump for selling the government to Putin, something we will be forced to assume happened if even a small number of the accusations emerging are true. But, there is also the potential of the two main actors and their associates having a common philosophy about race. This would not be the first time dictators or would be dictators bonded over such things.
I could be wrong. Am I wrong? I suppose time will tell.
When Secretary Clinton is elected President, barring more shenanigans on the part of Republicans like James Comey, she will take an oath of office, promising to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
Then, within a few days, she’ll violate that oath by appointing one or more Republicans to important positions in the Federal Government.
(As an aside, I’m wondering, what is the mechanism for paying someone like James Comey for giving a helping hand to his party and violating his constitutional oath? Offshore accounts? Do the payments come later? How does that work? I know how they do it on TV, but how do they do it in real life? But I digress…)
Every now and then, in every Democratic administration, a couple of Republicans are asked to serve. This is a thing both parties do at about equal levels. But what does not appear to be equal is the probability, increasing in recent years, that the cross party appointment will lead to either embarrassment, or serve to plant a time bomb of some sort. A cross party appointee messing with Democracy, or simply screwing up, seems to be more of a Republican thing than a Democratic things. (Though I’m sure there are a few counter examples.) Often, the Republican turns around at some point and sticks it to the Democrats. Sometimes it is just a personal attack that happens after they serve, other times it is a criminal act they carry out while still in their position.
James Comey is an example of this.
There are three truths that must be understood, and I hope Hillary Clinton understands and acts on these truths. But I doubt she will, because she she is a olde timey Democrat, bless her heart, and will likely carry on the tradition of bending over for the Republicans. But, since she should understand this more than anyone, ever, perhaps she will act differently.
Here are the truths:
1) Republicans are, in fact, very bad at certain things, especially national defense and crime. We are faced as a nation with huge problems in both of these areas, and if Secretary Clinton is elected to be President, she will be spending much of her administration dealing with these things. This includes the hatred of America engendered by protracted Republican wars, and the fact that our society is a prison state, and a police state, and other effects of the Patriot Act. These are mostly Republican-caused problems, and where Democrats were involved, they were Blue Dogs or cow towed.
2) Democrats are actually very good at doing these things, at dealing with defense and criminal justice. If Democrats keep putting their token Republicans in those areas, that will simply reinforce the utter falsehood that Democrats are lousy on crime and lousy on defense. This has to stop.
3) Republicans can not be trusted to govern, under any circumstances, in any role, at any level of government, ever. The fundamental philosophy of Republicans is that nothing matters, no ethical considerations or legal restrictions, as long as one ultimately votes against women’s health, for voter suppression, and in favor of unfettered gun ownership and use. Everything else, all other issues, are secondary. Therefore, when a Democratic president puts a Republican in any position of responsibility, knowing this, a deeply cynical and irresponsible act has occurred. The Republican will, eventually, violate the constitution.
To Republicans, the collective rights of all Americans make up the very pavement over which the bus of the Second Amendment, a Religious Republic, and a Police State roll. We don’t get thrown under the bus. We are expected to reside there, under the bus. Their bus.
Dear Secretary Clinton: After you take your oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America, don’t violate that oath right away by appointing any Republicans to any positions of authority of any kind whatsoever. Please.
There are Republicans who have served in Democratic administrations with honor and dignity, people like Jim Leach. But they are old, they are retired, they represent the GOP before the Republican Revolution. And the good they’ve done is not unique. Those positions could have been covered by Democrats. The Petraeus scandal, Bernanke’s sexism vis-a-vis the $10 bill, Chuck Hagel’s controversy, Bob Gate’s book, all serve as warnings.
But at this state, appointing a Republican to an important position within a Democratic administration carries sufficient risk of unconstitutional behavior that the act of appointment itself should be considered a violation of the oath.
You all know what James Comey did. He sent a letter to Congress that will undoubtedly serve to change the vote distribution among the leasing candidates for president enough to possibly change the outcome of the United States election of the President of the United States.
Such an act is treasonous, and had a private citizen, especially a brown one or one with “Hussain” in his name, done something to affect the election to this degree, the FBI would be on that citizen like ugly on an ape. But, James Comey is the head of the FBI, he’s white, male, and a Republican. Also, there is an argument that could be made that he had to send this letter.
The argument that he should of is fallacious. The only reason to have done so is that he, James Comey, can not be seen as having done something more wrong (as opposed to less wrong) in the final analysis of the Clinton Email Tragicomedy. So, it was an utterly selfish act on his part, and does not excuse him. Indeed, it makes what he did worse.
President Obama will be fully justified in relieving Director Comey of his duties. People at his level of government have been asked to resign for less. But, since Comey’s act serves to hurt the Democratic candidate, the one President Obama has been stumping for, he can’t do that before the election.
And that is why November 9th will be James Comey’s last day in public service. Then, he can go and write his book.
I have no idea why so many smart people are saying that anything that happened over the last few days changes this election, or destroys the Republican Party. Pay attention, people. that is not what is happening.
The Republican Party has become the party that harbors racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate, politically expedient willful ignorance about all things science, classism, anything anti-PC, and dedicated service to the demands of the wealthiest Americans.
Most of that comes from the Tea Party the rest comes from the elite in the party. In this way, the Republican Party represents something just under a majority of Americans, about something percent. America is a racist country. America is a misogynist and sexist country. America is a country that isn’t quite sure about education and has no real interest in universal health care. America has one of the most abysmal criminal justice systems of any democracy.
(The Republican Party has always been bad at security, economics, medium and small sized business support, education, science, the environment, family values, healthcare. That isn’t particularly relevant to the question at hand, but I just felt like mentioning it, because this is something most people don’t seem to know.)
The Republican Party has been unable to put forward a candidate for President that enough Republicans could support that they would have a chance of winning for three elections in a row. Why?
Romney was too normal for the base (the Tea Party). McCain was (allegedly) famous for working across the aisle and being a states-person (both exaggerations, but that was the belief). He was unacceptable to the Tea Party even after pandering to them by making the single worst pick for Vice President ever in our history. Neither candidate was able to beat a black man in a racist country. This happened because the party has major factions, the Tea Party and everyone else, and the elite in the party chose to please themselves and not the Tea Party in the election. So the Tea Party said no.
This year the Republicans finally put up a candidate that represents their majority, a sexist, racist, misogynist, willfully stupid, anti-education, anti-environment, pro 1%er movie star. This candidate will also lose. The base will support him; these latest scandals will not affect that at all. But the leadership and party elite have already failed to ensure a Trump victory by their inaction, and what little they were doing now ends (as does some important funding).
It takes more than one thing to win an election, and one of those things is the support of a good number of voters. But another thing is the full throated and vigorous support of a lot of other well known partisans, surrogates, representatives, together with money from the usual sources.
McCain had the latter, not the former; Romney had the latter, not the former. Trump has the former, not the latter.
In the end, this year’s Republican candidate, Donald Trump, will be trounced by a woman in a sexist country, must like McCain and Romney were beat by a black man in a racist country.
There is NO DIFFERENCE between the Romney campaign, the McCain campaign, and the Trump campaign. They all are or were doomed to fail for the same reasons, though the details represent different sides of the same coin.
Republicans will lose this year, not because of this week’s gaffs by Trump. They were going to lose anyway. People will still vote for Republicans in the Congress, and at the state Level. Overall, while Republicans may lose a down ticket race here or there, they will maintain control of at least one house of congress or, if they lose both houses, they’ll get at least one back in a short two years from now. No one who knows anything about American politics doubts this.
Having a Republican congress (full or in part) obviates the President, for the most part. And, since the Republicans’ main goal is to make government ineffective, the Republicans win no matter who is in the white house. A similar formula applies across the states as well.
And, nothing will change about this. All this talk about the Republican Party falling apart, going away, having to change, is well meaning wishful thinking.
The Republicans will win this year, again, no matter who goes into the White House, just like they won in 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000, and so on most of the way back to just after World War II. Even though they are in the (slim) minority.