In three days, Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
It’s difficult for me to describe the level of concern I have. It’s so difficult to describe that I haven’t even tried to write about it. I’ve been glued to the headlines since sometime last spring, watching his improbable rise in the Republican party as he destroyed political norm after political norm and re-awakened the kind of public discourse we haven’t seen in this country in decades.
What I want to do in this blog post is describe the conclusion I’ve reached regarding the 45th President, explain how I got there, and then ask you to join me. Because this is not a normal situation. This is not a mere political difference, with the other party has been voted in and we have to deal with it for a few years. What we face is far more serious, far more subversive, far more dangerous.
I’m going to set aside, for today, the fact that the Trump administration has appointed people who are clearly enemies of labor, of the LGBTQ community, of civil rights. Let’s set aside for just a moment the fact that he has made it clear that he will appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe V Wade and will also likely turn back the clock on same-sex marriage. For just a moment, let’s set aside the fact that we are about to see the largest assault on civil and human rights in this country that we’ve had in decades, and that may take decades to repair the damage.
I want to set that aside for the moment because we face a much bigger danger than that.
The fact is, there is a strong and credible case to be made that the next President of the United States colluded with the Russians to spread propaganda and subvert free elections in the United States. Worse, thanks to the decades of incessant attacks on the media from conservative punditry, most Americans have lost any faith at all in the news media, leaving us vulnerable to continued propaganda (see this excellent piece in the NY Times about the dangers of kompromat to democracy).
Ironically, the Russian propaganda machine, centered around the RT network and Sputnik (both Russian government funded entities) has been aided and abetted by the right wing media. Stories made up in a Russian propaganda office have been mass retweeted by bot-farms on Twitter, then picked up by for-profit Pro-Trump fake news purveyors, some of which never even bothered to hide the fact that they were pure fakery. Those stories got linked enough that they reached circulation on large sites in America, purveyed by conspiracy-theory promoting sites like Infowars and white0supremacist dominated Breitbart news. Otherwise intelligent people— people who I’ve considered friends most of my adult life—have spread lies and propaganda not realizing what they were doing.
There’s no question that the Russian propaganda machine pushed and inflated stories that helped Trump and hurt Hilary Clinton. And it continues: just this morning, Putin was quoted in an interview saying that the Obama administration was undermining Trump. Not to be outdone by the likes of TASS, Sputnik and RT (all official outlets of the Russian government), the right-wing American news sites are gushing with praise for Putin and Trump. Daily Caller has several stories attacking the firm responsible for the Trump dossier. Brietbart, along with headlines suggesting that rioters will descend on DC this weekend, bears the headline “Putin Says Obama Administration Targeting Trump.” Infowars claims “Leftists Claims Trump is Putin Puppet, Ignore Saudi Arabia funding Clinton,” “Trump Open to Ending Sanctions on Russia” and “Russia Invites Trump to Upcoming Syrian Peace Talks.”
The fact that Russia operates a massive propaganda network is not in dispute except amongst some of the blindest followers of Trump. But the case for direct collusion is also strong.
First, there is the much-discussed dossier which made its way into the public last week. We don’t have any way of knowing which statements, if any, in the dossier were true. There is good reason to doubt the veracity of much of it. However, there are two things which stand out about it: first, it was deemed to be important enough that both the President and the President-elect were briefed on its contents. The various statements found in it, explosive as they are, represent the unchecked work of a retired intelligence officer who was seeking incriminating information about Trump. It has to be taken in that context. But we have other clues which provided a much deeper context for Trump’s involvement in Russia.
First, we have Trump and his sons’ own statements. In 2013, Donald J Trump publicly stated that he had a strong relationship with Vladimir Putin. We can, of course, assume he was just bragging. However, it’s clear that Trump and his organization working to expand investment from and business ties with Russia. Trump’s son stated that investment money was “pouring in” from Russia, and that Russian investments made up a large proportion of the family business.
Trump’s pursuit of Russian deals and ties with Russia are not recent. In fact, they go back to the mid-1980s. Trump wrote in his own book about pursuing a partnership with the Soviet government after meeting Soviet Ambassador at lunch in New York in 1986.
Trump closely partnered with Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official and business mogul who was arrested in Turkey for operating a underage-prostitution ring on his 450-foot yacht. Reportedly, businessmen paid between $3,000 and $10,000 per night for sex with young models (some of them underage) on the yacht. Arif was eventually aquitted of the charges.
In the 2000s, the Trump organization sold millions of dollars worth of properties in Florida to Russian investors. Further, following multiple bankruptcies, Trump was unable to gain financing from American banks. The result? Foreign lenders, including the Central Bank of China, Alpha Bank (Russia) and others have loaned a reported 1.8 billion to Trump. And we don’t even know how much he has in direct investments and joint ventures, because he never made any of his records public.
Second, there is the case of the mysterious server. A story appeared in Slate in the fall of last year, not long before the election, describing a group of computer scientists who were raising concern about a server operated by the Trump Organization which appeared to communite almost exclusively with a server owned by Russian owned Alpha bank. Several other news outlets posted potential refutations of this story, so it’s not a clear slam dunk. It’s worth reading the original story here, as well as Slate’s followup and some of the criticism linked to in the followup article. Snopes, a popular fact checking site, rates the claims as “unproven.”
Third, there is a laundry list of Trump advisors who have been paid Russian consultants and lobbyists. Paul Manafort, formerly Trump’s campaign chairman, quit in August over controversy resulting from his work for a Moscow leaning former President of Ukraine who was ousted for corruption. Manafort denies it, but Ukrainian authorities have accused him of taking $12.7 million in secret payments. Carter Page, another senior Trump advisor, quit over Russian links in September. Richard Burt, an ex-US ambassador to Germany, drafted a major Trump foreign policy address while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars as a lobbyist for a Russian pipeline. Finally, there is Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, fired by President Obama and roundly seen in Washington as a conspiracy theorist. Flynn has been paid by RT Network and recently admitted to spending the day on the phone with the Russian ambassador on the same day US sanctions were levied against Russia.
Fourth, last year a joint counter-intelligence task force was created to investigate intelligence that indicated money was coming from Russia into the US Presidential campaign. That task force sought FISA warrants to intercept electronic communications between the campaign and two Russian banks. The FISA court twice rejected the request, finally approving it in October, three weeks before the election. As of yet, we don’t know the results of that investigation. But on Friday, the agents conducting the investigation will have a new boss – Donald J. Trump.
These various ties to Russia might not be enough to convince you. But that’s not all.
At the Republican National Convention, Trump’s team intervened to change the platform of the convention to remove condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and removed the call in the platform to help arm Ukraine. There has been a clear pattern of Trump and his people realigning our country. This week it has only escalated, as Trump has made it clear that he is willing to dynamite the Post World War II European order including the EU and NATO. Trump has stated that the United States might not defend NATO countries which are invaded by Russia.
Trump has called the Atlantic alliance “obsolete” and argued that “maybe NATO will dissolve, and that’s OK, not the worst thing in the world.”
Let me remind you that it has been NATO and the European community which have prevented a repeat of World War II. Let me remind you that in 1945 much of Europe looked like Aleppo does today. Let me remind you that Vladimir Putin seeks to discredit and weaken that European order because it is a rival to his own ambitions. He has killed opponents, jailed reporters and apparently Trump has no problem with that (he stated during the primary campaign that “our country does plenty of killing also”).
Russia intervened in an American election, to get the candidate they wanted, a candidate who is financially beholden to them and who will support their policies – policies which represent a direct security threat to the United States. If Donald Trump was a democrat, Republicans would be crying treason. Instead, many of them are sitting back and doing nothing, or worse, they are justifying foreign espionage against the United States because it helped their team.
What does all this mean?
First, it means that we need to hold our Representatives feet to the fire. We cannot allow them to roll over and die. The only check left on Trump (and Putin) is Congress, and right now Congress is doing exactly nothing to hold him back. If you live in a Democratic district, call them, raise hell, send letters, and demand to know exactly what they are doing to protect our country.
If you live in a Republican district, make sure they know that they’ll be punished at the ballot box for covering for a foreign asset in the White House. Give them the political cover they need to do actual oversight. Right letters. Raise hell. Demand to know exactly what they are doing to protect our country.
We stand at an unprecedented place in American history, and the only thing between American democracy and the abyss is a Congress dominated by Republicans. If they roll over and let the Russian-led White House undermine our country’s values, the damage might be too severe to repair.
Don’t let them do it.
Hold them accountable. Write them letters. Call them. Every day if you have to. Show up at their town hall meetings and ask them to investigate Trump’s Russia connections.