You may have missed it with all of the theatrics surrounding the Trump Shutdown, but some potentially mind-blowing news came out last Friday and over the weekend.
Even as I suffer from Trump fatigue, and you know what I think of him as president, it is impossible to ignore this development. The FBI started a counter-intelligence investigation of the president in 2017. The President. Of the United States. It is unknown whether that investigation continues under the guidance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it is likely that it does. A counter-intelligence investigation is totally unlike a criminal investigation. It is a totally different ball game. It also puts the possibility of the president’s efforts at obstructing justice into an entirely different dimension. Perhaps instead of trying to protect himself from embarrassment or through some other motivation, his decision to fire then FBI Director James Comey “over this Russia thing” was with a different outcome in mind. Coupled with all of the subsequent efforts to stop or disrupt Mr. Mueller’s investigation, it appears he was trying to keep the discovery of conspiracy with a foreign power from becoming known. In other words, the obstruction was the conspiracy (or collusion as it is popularly, but wrongly, called.)
In this context, the Mueller investigation, and Mr. Trump’s actions as a candidate and as president form a continuum across time and are not a series of discreet events.
It is hard to adequately convey how difficult the decision to do this is. For the Department of Justice (DOJ), that would have to approve the FBI investigation at its highest level, to sign off on it, would indicate that there is or was extraordinary evidence that something was amiss. This would be no routine investigation.
Apparently, the FBI became so alarmed at Mr. Trump’s actions that it appeared he was acting on behalf of a foreign power. They knew that a “normal” president would not talk or act as he was, specifically with respect to Russia and Vladimir Putin, and could only explain it by the concern that he must be under the influence of a foreign power. In other words, they thought the president could be a Russian agent. No movie studio would make this movie. Too preposterous.
To be clear, to be a Russian agent does not necessarily mean that the individual was trained in Russia or by Russians, or even that he was directly controlled by a Russian case agent. As former CIA Director John Brennan said in testimony to Congress, such people can be “wittingly or unwittingly” agents of a foreign power. I do not know and cannot make a good guess as to whether Mr. Trump is or is not knowingly a Russian agent. But I do know that he is acting to further the Russian agenda over the best interests of the United States.
Keep in mind, Mr. Putin was a career KGB agent who attained the rank of Colonel before the end of the Cold War. He knows what he is doing.
This is scary, mind-blowing, and a conundrum. Our system of government is based on the premise that the president is above reproach when it comes to national security. One may disagree on specific policy decisions, but we must assume that presidents are doing what they believe are in the best interests of the United States, not a foreign adversary. The president is the final arbiter of military, intelligence, and foreign policy issues. How do intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies or the counter intelligence arms of various government agencies deal with an individual who, while under investigation, can over turn, hinder or evade those investigations? And how should they be held to account? If by definition the president is the lead diplomat for our country, how can he be wrong? There are many implications and questions that arise when one starts thinking about our president as a Russian agent. My head hurts.
Keep in mind that counter intelligence agents are some of the most peculiar people one will ever meet. Thinking about their job, they are suspicious about everyone and everything that does not fit their mold of the “normal.” Conspiracies lurk everywhere. None-the-less, there must have been sufficient reasons to open this investigation or it would never have happened. They do not investigate the president for the fun of it or for political reasons. They just do not. Yes, paranoia runs deep. Into your life it will creep. (With apologies to Buffalo Springfield.) You are not paranoid if it is true.
The possibility gains traction through documented reports that Mr. Trump met one-on-one with Mr. Putin five different times over the last two years with only interpreters in the room. He then collected the interpreters notes and refused to share what was said with anyone else in the government. Two particularly troubling meetings were the one in Helsinki last summer and an unscheduled meeting at a G-20 dinner in Hamburg Germany where only the Russian interpreter was present. (I have written about these meetings before. I was especially alarmed by the meeting in Germany.) Rest assured the Russians know what was discussed and agreed to, but not those in the highest levels of our own government.
In my view, the most likely foundation to this arrangement rests on sanctions. The Russians want them lifted and so does the Trump Organization. The Russians were heavily sanctioned following their annexation of Crimea and it is hurting their economy. They want them gone. The sanctions were the genesis of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. When you hear “Magnitsky Act” think sanctions. The Russians want them removed. Now. Mr. Trump wants them lifted because following his many bankruptcies, nearly all his money came from Russia. The banks that produced the loans are subject to the sanctions. Continued sanctions means no big money for Trump Org. Additionally, it is well know that Mr. Trump’s business Holy Grail is to put his name on a Trump Tower Moscow.
My view is that of many possible explanations, the simplest is that Mr. Trump wants to do business in Russia when he leaves office and is willing to bargain with Mr. Putin to get the access. What other evidence exists?
Let’s look at some of the president’s actions and words. This list is not exhaustive but representative.
- As the Republican nominee he had the Republican National Committee 2016 platform changed regarding Ukraine in order to mirror Russian claims and interests.
- At every opportunity he incessantly praises Mr. Putin which validates Mr. Putin’s self-proclaimed status, empowers him at home, and comes at the expense of our allies and friends.
- The primary goal of Mr. Putin is to splinter the Western Alliance so that Russia can fill the void and return to the glory days — as Mr. Putin sees it — of the Soviet Union. Mr Trump aids that goal in many ways.
- He launches personal and political attacks against the leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and others. He belittles lesser members of the European Union (EU) and NATO.
- He supports Brexit (The UK departure from the EU) which currently has the UK in turmoil. This weakens the EU and contributes to chaos in the internal affairs of a key ally. That internal chaos distracts a force for good and takes a staunch opponent of Russia off of the world stage.
- When asked in a 2018 interview to name the U.S. “biggest foe globally right now,” Mr. Trump responded “I think the European Union is a foe.” The EU contains our closest allies. The interview was just before he met with Mr. Putin in Helsinki.
- He continually belittles NATO in public. It is apparent he does not know how funding for NATO works. He apparently also does not know that the only time Article V of NATO was invoked (an attack on one nation is an attack on all) was following the terrorist attack in September 2001. NATO troops have been in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict and remain there. It has been widely reported that Mr. Trump continually pushed his senior aids throughout 2018 to have the U.S. withdraw from NATO. Such an action would be Mr. Putin’s wildest dream come true.
- He continually denies that Russia interfered with the U.S. 2016 election. He continually takes Mr. Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere over the facts presented by the entire U.S. intelligence community. Among his justification for taking Mr. Putin’s word is the newly reported reasoning for doing so, including this remarkable quote. Mr. Trump “said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that ‘if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.’ Mr. Trump said: ‘I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world’ at hacking.”
- He pushed to have Russia rejoin the G-7 (it was previously the G-8). The Russians were expelled following their annexation of Crimea. Mr. Trump said that he thinks that the punishment is too severe for that act.
- At the 2018 G-7 summit Mr. Trump opined that of course Crimea belongs to Russia because “they all speak Russian.” This put fear into the hearts of our Baltic, and NATO, allies that were once part of the Soviet Union and have a large Russian ethnic population.
- Following the March 2018 poisoning in the UK of the Skirpals, former Russian agents that went over to the West, he said that there was no evidence to support the UK Prime Minister’s denunciations of Russia for an attack on British soil.
- Last December he called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria “now” and turn it over to the Russians. This is a long-standing goal of the Russians so that they can increase their influence in the Middle East and gain a military presence in the region.
- He often spouts Russian talking points (propaganda). The most recent instance was his spontaneous and out of the blue discourse on the Soviet Union, their presence in Afghanistan, and a revisionist history of their reasons for invading. (This was the subject of a recent post in this space, explaining how this promotes Mr. Putin’s view of the restoration of the Soviet empire.)
And so on. Some big, some small, but all consistent in their praise of Russia and in pushing the Russian agenda.
So, what to think? Is our president a Russian agent, whether wittingly or unwittingly? I sincerely hope that the Mueller investigation addresses this issue clearly, either to confirm it or to debunk it. From where I sit today, and from all that we have seen of Mr. Trump in the last three years, I think it likely. It is most likely in the nature of long-standing business and other money schemes between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump and his family. That would be in keeping with what we know about him and what he says himself. With him, no matter the subject, it is all about the money. Period.
Should this be true, I have no idea how it will be resolved. It is beyond comprehension. The President of the United States works for Russia. Incredible.
The only thing that is clear to me is that Mr. Mueller needs to get the results of his investigation into the open as soon as possible. I know that he is being meticulous, as he should be. However, if this is even only a little bit true, our nation is in danger. We need to know and we need to know before something truly awful happens. And if it isn’t true, we need to know that as well so that we can move on without distraction to addressing the complex issues that we know await us in 2019
With this post, you should see a change in the presentation of this blog. In reviewing recent posts, it seemed to me that the advertisements — for which I got no compensation — were overwhelming the content. That should change as of today.
You as a reader do not need to take any action. You should continue to receive new posts as before.
Thank you for reading and for your comments.
(With a bow in the direction of Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, for the title.)
Last night the president gave a speech to the nation about the alleged crisis on our southern border. Lots of figures and statistics continue to be thrown around to support the president’s desire to build a wall. Most are misleading or purposely distorted in order to support his campaign pledge. Whether you support the wall or not, here are the facts provided by Mr. Trump’s own administration and other independent sources. We can disagree on the best way to provide border security, but it should be a fact based discussion. With the emotion removed it becomes a different situation.
- Mexico will not pay for the wall. Claims that the new U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement (NAFTA by any other name with a few improvements) will result in Mexico “essentially” paying for it is false. Whether or not the new agreement changes the balance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that money does not go into the U.S. Treasury. And the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the new agreement so it is not in force. No time-table for ratification is set.
- 800,000 American federal workers are out of a pay check come Friday. There are hundreds of thousands of more American workers without pay checks that support the Federal government or that provide services to the government that are without pay checks and will not get back pay.
- Claims that the number of migrants crossing the border are unprecedented are wrong. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions at the border in 2017. That is the lowest in 45 years. In 2018 there were 396,579. A slight increase, but significantly lower than the 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
- The southern border is not the primary way that undocumented immigrants enter the country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2017, 606,926 people were in the country illegally by over staying their visas. That is roughly twice the number from the southern border. 101,281 of those who did not leave when their visa expired were from Canada.
- According to the U.S. State Department, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
- According to the U.S. government, in 2017, 2,554 official encounters in the U.S. occurred with people on the terrorist watch list (which does not mean they are terrorists as it is often a case of mismatched names or other glitches). Of those, 2,170 attempted to enter through airports. NBC news reports, based on a DHS report to Congress, that the “roughly 4,000” terrorists cited by Trump Administration officials that were stopped were from around the world, not at the southern border. This includes stopping some before they get on an airplane overseas. Again this refers to people on the watch list, not necessarily actual terrorists. In the first half of 2018 exactly six immigrants were stopped at the southern border for being on the list. In the same time frame, forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel deported 5,872 suspected gang members in 2018. ICE does not break down which gangs these people belong to so it is impossible to know how many belong to MS-13. Additionally, some of those in the mix that were deported were not actually members of gangs. It is likely that the number of MS-13 gang-bangers arrested by ICE is in the hundreds. The total number of gang members deported in 2018 is less than one percent of those entering legally and then staying in the country illegally.
- Any murder or rape is a tragedy. Keep in mind that statistics consistently show that immigrants — legal or illegal — are far less likely to break the law than those born in the United States.
- According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about 90% of the heroin entering the U.S. comes through Mexico. Frankly, no one knows exactly how much enters the country each year. However, DEA reports that the very large majority of it comes through legal ports of entry by land, sea and air.
- The vast majority of non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the U.S. do so at legal ports of entry. Under U.S. and international law, those seeking asylum must be taken at their word that they are in danger of their lives, or persecution in their native lands until a hearing is held to adjudicate their claim. Not everyone crossing the southern border seeking asylum is granted it. Current administrative processes at the border result in extremely long wait times (it could be months) to enter through a port of entry. This induces desperate people to try to cross illegally and then to turn themselves in to authorities. This happens quite often and in peaceful ways. Whether the individuals entered legally or illegally, if they ask for asylum, under the law, they must be heard.
Here is my opinion.
What is really at stake is Article I of the Constitution. In what is known as the “vesting”clause, all legislative authority is given to the Congress, including appropriations and authorizations to spend money. Note that it comes before Article II that gives executive power to the president. Article III creates the judiciary.
In his first two years, Mr. Trump did not have a Congress that would put a check on his whims, desires and plans. Now he does with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives. On their part, the House is exercising their Constitutional power of the purse to establish that they are a co-equal branch of government and do not have to give in to the president on every issue. Frankly, it is about time. Missing in action is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) who got burned by the president’s promises in December and refuses to get involved to end the shutdown. It is likely that in short order (a few days to a week) Republican Senators will start to come over to the Democrat’s plan and Mr. McConnell will have to bring the Democrats’ bills to the floor to again pass what they already did just before Christmas.
Remember that the bills passed by the House last week are exactly the same as those already passed by the Republican controlled Senate. Because a new Congress was installed last week, all bills not passed by both Houses need to start over.
The government shutdown over the wall has nothing to do with border security. All sober government officials, Republican or Democrat, support border security. They differ on how our money and resources should be spent to protect and regulate the border.
The wall is a political stunt. The president backed himself into a corner and when a bipartisan deal was presented to him (including the bill passed in the Senate just before Christmas), after agreeing to it, he caved to right-wing pundits and proudly proclaimed that he would own the shutdown. That he and many of his advisers did not understand that when a shutdown goes into effect it means the government shuts down, hurting countless thousands of people across the country, is a story for another day.
It appears that there are three ways this situation can be resolved. Mr. Trump caves. The House and Senate get together and pass veto proof bills to fund the government. Finally, Mr. Trump may follow through on his threat to declare a National Emergency, mobilize the military and use Department of Defense funds to build his wall. This last move is that of an autocrat. It is Despot 101. Create a threat where one doesn’t exist, declare an emergency, mobilize the military, bypass the democratically elected legislature and take steps to curtail any opposition.
And all of it is based on a big lie. I cannot think of a more dangerous scenario.
Mr. Donald J. Trump held his first cabinet meeting of the year on 2 January. In keeping with his reality show background, the meeting was televised. The meeting was really a 90 minute monologue on just about everything that Mr. Trump stewed about over the holidays. There were many newsworthy elements to be found in the transcript ranging from the border wall to the economy. Many of the statements were provably wrong or misleading. The list of falsehoods is too long to go through here.
Among the many untruths from the meeting perhaps the most troubling, at least in terms of asking oneself “where the heck did that come from?” were his comments on Afghanistan. In a discussion about a continued U.S. military presence there, he launched into a bizarre statement full of previously unknown “facts”. In addition to slandering our allies that have fought and died alongside US troops there he said,
“Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting.
The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.”
No one. No one, on the left, the right or the respective wing nuts of either side have ever said or believed that the Russians went into Afghanistan to fight terrorists or because they had a “right” to invade them. Bipartisan efforts during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush worked to isolate and punish the USSR for that invasion.
The real reason the Soviets invaded was the Brezhnev Doctrine. In 1968 Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union put forth as a basic tenet of Soviet foreign policy the right to interfere in the affairs of any communist country anywhere in the world. The Afghan government was communist when the Soviets invaded in 1979 and they occupied the country until their withdrawal in 1989. While true that the occupation was a drain on the Soviet military and the occupation became unpopular with the Soviet people, it did not bankrupt them or otherwise lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain. There were numerous reasons for the fall, but Afghanistan was more of a symptom of all that was wrong with the Soviet system rather than the cause. They definitely did not enter Afghanistan to fight “terrorists.”
Only one person is pushing the narrative that the Soviet Union had a “right” to invade Afghanistan to stop “terrorism.” That one person is Vladimir Putin. He is pushing a new revisionist history that is pure propaganda and is designed to restore his view of the glory of the Soviet empire in order to stoke nationalist sentiment in Russia, entrench his own power, and provide the basis for his adventurism in Ukraine, the Baltic states, and elsewhere in the hope of restoring that empire.
And now I guess there are two people pushing that line, one of which is the President of the United States.
As the Wall Street Journal put it in part in an editorial,
“Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.
The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.”
Is the president ignorant of history or is someone feeding him propaganda that he willingly repeats? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this should raise alarm bells. Either the president really is ignorant of important world events that continue to shape international relations today, or he is willingly repeating Mr. Putin’s revisionist history meant to restore the luster of the former Soviet Union. Either answer is deeply troubling.
What are we to make of this? In the continued chaos of this administration it is easy to lose track of the multitude of “absurd” statements and actions coming out of the White House. However, given the president’s propensity to support and defend all things Putin, one must ask again, “what is going on?” The answer may be even more troubling than we can imagine.