Trump’s troubling ties to Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs Cabinet meeting in Moscow, Feb. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Alexei Druzhinin, Pool)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs Cabinet meeting in Moscow, Feb. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Alexei Druzhinin, Pool)

Several weeks ago, Donald Trump kicked off a constitutional crisis by firing the Acting U.S. Attorney General, Sally Yates, after Yates opposed Trump’s Muslim Ban. Since then, after rulings by numerous federal courts, Yates’ view has been validated. Now it turns out that another correct decision by Yates, regarding Russia, was ignored by Trump and his White House staff, with dire consequences.

Specifically, on Monday night, Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after just a few weeks on the job, due to lies he reportedly told regarding his discussions with Russian officials before he began his new job. The twists and turns are many, and information keeps dripping out, but the timeline of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia seems quite troubling thus far:

  • 2006: Exxon executive Rex Tillerson, who managed the company’s Russia account, becomes Exxon CEO, largely due to his Russian business relationships.
  • August 2011: Exxon forms partnership with Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft to drill for oil in Russia’s Arctic, Black Sea and Siberian regions.
  • February-March 2014: Russia annexes Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine by force.
  • March 2014: The U.S. and the European Union impose sanctions on Russia over Ukraine invasion.
  • September 2014: U.S. and E.U. impose further sanctions on Russia, “targeting – and crucially, isolating – Russia’s financial, energy, technology and defense sectors and restricting trade in these areas.”
  • December 2015: Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General and former Defense Intelligence Agency head Michael Flynn, paid by Russian government, flies to Moscow for interview with Russian state-run propaganda TV network RT during its conference and 10th anniversary gala. Flynn is seated next to Vladimir Putin at the gala. Jill Stein was also seated at their table. RT “us[es] Americans as props and pawns” to further its anti-American propaganda.
  • 2016: Trump campaign aides, including Paul Manafort, had repeated discussions with Russian intelligence officials. These discussions were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies. Federal law prohibits U.S. citizens from having discussions with foreign governments or officers regarding any dispute or controversy with the U.S., or to defeat the measures of the U.S., without authorization from the U.S. government.
  • June 2016: Russian intelligence agencies identified as having hacked Democratic National Committee computer network.
  • August 19, 2016: Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort resigns over past lobbying work for pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs. Several days earlier, it was reported that secret handwritten ledgers showed some $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort by Ukraine’s pro-Russian political party.
  • September 26, 2016: Carter Page, one of candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisors with deep ties to Russia, resigns from the Trump campaign amid allegations that he had private conversations with top Russian officials on behalf of Trump, also in apparent violation of federal law.
  • December 18, 2016: On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Trump’s former Campaign Manager and soon to be Senior White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway denied that anyone from the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russians trying to meddle in the U.S. elections, saying “absolutely not. Those conversations never happened.”
  • December 29, 2016: President Barack Obama imposes sanctions on Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies confirm that the Russian government attempted to interfere in the U.S. election, by computer hacking and otherwise, for Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton, as well as against Democratic House candidates.
  • December 29, 2016: Flynn has several discussions about the Russia sanctions with Russian Ambassador to U.S. Sergei Kislyak, once again in apparent violation of federal law. The conversations are reportedly recorded by the U.S. government.
  • December 30, 2016: Vladimir Putin says that Russia will not retaliate against the U.S. over the new sanctions. This is unusual, as one side typically retaliates, for example, by expelling a number of the other side’s diplomats.
  • January 13, 2017: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says that Flynn and Kislyak did not talk about Russian sanctions, but only spoke to set up logistics for future calls.
  • January 15, 2017: Vice President Mike Pence tells CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Flynn and Kislyak did not talk about Russian sanctions during their discussions in December, that such discussions were “strictly coincidental,” and that no one from the Trump campaign had been having discussions with Russian officials.
  • January 20-25, 2017: FBI agents interview Flynn shortly after Trump takes office and before January 26, regarding Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador.
  • January 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Yates tells Trump about Flynn’s discussions with Russia regarding sanctions, and says Flynn is vulnerable to Russian blackmail because of his false statements to the contrary.
  • February 1, 2017: Rex Tillerson confirmed as U.S. Secretary of State, with record number of Senate votes in opposition.
  • February 2, 2017: Trump eases sanctions against Russia, allowing U.S. companies to sell encrypted technology to Russia.
  • February 13, 2017, a.m.: White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway says Trump has “full confidence” in Flynn.
  • February 13, 2017, p.m.: Flynn resigns just seven hours later.
  • February 14, 2017: Reports emerge that Russia has secretly deployed cruise missiles, in violation of an arms control treaty with the U.S., and that Russia has a spy ship “loitering” off the U.S. east coast.
  • February 14, 2017: Trump signs repeal of 2010 Securities and Exchange Commission transparency rule requiring oil companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose payments to foreign governments, including Russia.

Trump and his spokespeople yesterday and today incorrectly focused on the White House leaks that led to the public revelations about Flynn, rather than the underlying problem. Indeed, Trump took to Twitter, seemingly his main mode of public communication, to say:

However, the real issue isn’t that whistle blowers inside the White House are telling reporters about possible wrongdoing, corruption and lawbreaking by people now at the highest levels of government. That’s to be expected given these troubling events that Trump and his inner circle kept secret from the American people (and even, possibly, from Vice President Pence) for weeks. The issue is the wrongdoing itself. The fundamental questions that must be asked include:

  • Why did Donald Trump hire so many officials and campaign staffers with deep ties to Russia, arguably an enemy of the United States?
  • Did anyone on behalf of candidate Trump collude with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election?
  • Did Flynn talk to the Russians about Trump’s plans to get rid of U.S. sanctions placed upon them?
  • Did Trump or someone on behalf of Trump send Flynn to have these discussions with Russia?
  • If Trump didn’t send Flynn, did he know that Flynn was having such discussions?
  • Did Flynn or any other White House official on behalf of Trump signal to Russia that the U.S. would look the other way at Russia’s invasion of and war against Ukraine?
  • Is Trump’s primary reason for being in the White House to facilitate business deals with and for Russia?

Since Republicans run both houses of Congress and seem unwilling to engage in any meaningful investigation of this matter thus far, a truly Independent Counsel a/k/a a Special Prosecutor needs to be appointed to do so. If that does not happen soon, then, at minimum, Trump and his White House team will likely lose the trust and confidence of the vast majority of Americans. They may lose more than that.

Photo from Jedimentat44, used under Creative Commons license.

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