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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Today's Must-Read: Beyond Trump: A Twofer

No, not what happens when The Hairpiece finally implodes, but digging deeper into how he got where he is. First, from Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo, the Russian reaction to the hacking hearings:

The Los Angeles Times indicates it is not only Trump knocked back on his heels. Russian hackers have been surprised by the blowback. “The story has magnified more than the Russians expected,” said William Courtney, an adjunct senior fellow at the Rand Corp:
Traditionally, former Soviet governments were reluctant to get involved in the internal politics of America because of the risk of possible retaliation. “But Putin has been willing to do that and to take extra risks,” said Courtney, a former U.S. ambassador to Georgia and onetime presidential special assistant for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia.


“The fact that they were willing to do it openly suggests Putin is trying to fire a shot across the bow, in a political sense, to show that Russia has the capacity to make it look like the integrity to the U.S. elections is not as strong as Americans think it is and to undermine confidence … that the democratic process is honest,” Courtney said.
The L.A. Times report notes that Kremlin loyalists claimed Monday's congressional hearings are meant to undermine Moscow's ties with Trump:
The aim of this week’s hearings in Washington “is not to allow Trump to improve ties with Russia,” said Sergei Markov, a Moscow-based political analyst and a former lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party. “Very serious circles in the U.S. think that they can’t let Russia become a great power, that Russia should be pressed, pressed, pressed.”

Sullivan thoughtfully provides this lead-in to Digby's analysis of the Republican strategy (if we can call it that):

Just now, encouragement from Moscow cannot be helpful to a Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress hoping to make this investigation go away quickly if not quietly.

Notes Digby:

Republicans on the committee followed Trump’s lead as best they could. Despite having backed the Patriot Act and NSA mass surveillance to the hilt in the past, nearly all of them are now born-again civil libertarians, overwhelmed with concerns for the privacy rights of average citizens as long as they are named Michael Flynn.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., did everything but beg Comey to say he was investigating newspapers and would promise to prosecute journalists. Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., went on and on about the Clinton Foundation. It was almost as if these GOP congressmen wanted to talk about anything but the Russian hacking of the election campaign.

As Politico’s Michael Crowley told Brian Williams on MSNBC last night:

There’s just an unwillingness [among Republicans] to hear the fundamental facts of what happened in this election. It’s a desire to tell a different story, to have a narrative that this is about leaks. And sure, that’s a valid point to raise and it’s a serious question. But relative to the idea that a foreign government interfered in our election, tried to distort our democracy, it just doesn’t compare. And I just saw so little concern about that on the part of he Republicans on that committee today. I just found it very strange.
(Emphasis added.)

Of course they want to talk about anything else -- Benghazi!!1, E-Mails!!1!, the Clinton Foundation, anything but Russian interference in our election. Digby hits a key fact that's been lost in the twitter storm:

Maybe Republicans have other motives for trying to downplay this growing scandal aside from partisan loyalty to a president most of them barely know. As I noted here on Salon a few weeks back, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta were not the only hacks. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was hacked as well and the information was professionally curated and disseminated by none other than the same Guccifer 2.0. The release of that information targeted close campaigns where the information could be most effectively used against the Democrats.

The New York Times published a long exposé about this last December showing exactly how the hacks were done, but amid the Trump furor it’s never been followed up. One can imagine why Republican Intelligence Committee members would prefer it never is. After all, the Russians apparently didn’t just interfere on behalf of Donald Trump. They interfered on behalf of House Republicans. Somebody might begin to wonder what they expected in return.

I'm not sure that whether the Russians expect something in return is quite the right question: My own take is that Putin is most interested in destabilizing the West as much as possible to pave the way for further territorial grabs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Exploiting divisions in the EU and NATO goes hand in hand with tampering with elections -- not only ours, but in France, Germany, even the UK. (I wonder if anyone thought to check and see if Russia had any involvement in the publicity in the run-up to the Brexit vote.)

As far as the Trump/USA arm of this strategy, aside from the hacking and leaks of Democratic e-mails, etc. (with the willing, even eager collusion of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and if you believe differently, you've been hiding in a cave), there are Trump's business dealings. I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to release his tax returns, not because of whether or not he paid income taxes, but because of where the money came from. It's widely rumored that he's up to his tiny little nuts in debt to Russian banks and oligarchs, and I think it would be foolish to discount those rumors completely. Oh, and let's not forget Trump's appointment of the CEO of Exxon/Mobil, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State, someone who's worked on deals with the Russians before -- and who also happens to be skipping his first meeting of NATO foreign ministers but will be traveling to Russia soon. The reasons for that are painfully obvious:

Tillerson, whose relationship with the Kremlin dates back to the early 1990s, has struck several major deals with the Russian state-run corporation Rosneft and received the prestigious Order of Friendship award from Putin in 2013.

In 2014, Exxon was on the brink of signing a lucrative deal with Rosneft to drill for oil in the Russian Arctic when the US leveled sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration sanctioned Russia again late last month for its meddling in the presidential election.

Tillerson's close relationship with Russia and Putin, however, has led to speculation that as secretary of state, he could push for sanctions on Russia to be lifted — allowing Exxon's Arctic agreement with Rosneft, reported to be worth $500 billion, to proceed.

I'm willing to bet the substance is just as awful as the optics.

OK, there's more here than just a twofer, but these things just seem to flow together, you know?


Anonymous said...

The Republicans have historically been anti-Russia almost reflexively, but the reason was always put forth as the socialized way the country was run. In fact, I believe it was because the Republicans knew letting the public see how closely their lockstep tactics matched Russian totalitarianism would doom their efforts. Putin is upending that nervousness, and the Republicans haven't figured out what to do that will look like they object even while they privately pursue the same type agenda. Single-figure rule is what they've loved for years; Trump won't be the single figure, though, it'll be Pence.

Pieter said...

Sorry. That comment above was supposed to be signed.