Before we break for the holidays, let's take a moment to congratulate Vladimir Putin. The year almost passed was a bargain-basement dream come true for the Russian leader, who for a mere $500,000 investment not only greased the skids for Donald Trump to become president, but gleefully watched the U.S. devolve into chaos as his boy toy undermined democratic norms and did so much to abrogate America's world leadership. Just like Putin had hoped.
That $500,000 is an estimate of what it cost the Kremlin to run an "active measures influence campaign," in spy parlance. This was a remarkable return on investing in troll farms that flooded the Internet, including fake news disguised as real news, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and other targeted information -- all designed to divide the electorate and screw Hillary Clinton.
Could Putin have done it without the help of the Trump campaign and perhaps the candidate himself?
That is unlikely because Trump and Putin are such a great fit: A billionaire New York real estate mogul and reality television star who wanted even more money and power and would do anything to get it, and an autocratic thug who wanted even more power and money and would do whatever it took to return the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory by undermining America's standing as the sole surviving superpower.
Putin's gambit was not a total success, but that had nothing to do with Trump.
Despite the campaign's dutiful embrace of Putin's agenda, including surreptitiously rewriting and dramatically watering down the Republican National Convention platform on Ukraine, Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine still has not been recognized as legitimate. And Trump, boxed in over the summer by Congress, not only has not repealed Obama era sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of the annexation and election interference, but toughened them in defiance of the president's oft-stated desire that they be lifted.
This, of course, was before the Republicans in control of Congress backslid into endorsing Trump's madness.
It should be noted that while there still are some hardheads who continue to question whether Russia even interfered in the election -- including Trump himself, who in the recesses of his diseased mind understands that to acknowledge interference would be to further delegitimize his "victory" -- there are skeptics not in the thrall of the right-wing Republican noise machine who do not believe Trump's campaign colluded with the Kremlin.§
This despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary:(1.) Neither Trump or his campaign advisers ever cultivated contacts with the governments and surrogates for any country except Russia. Not with key allied countries like Britain, France or Germany, let alone China.
There is a good reason for this. Federal law prohibits political campaigns from having all but the most cursory contact with foreign governments, let alone receiving material or financial assistance from them.
(2.) There were at least 31 contacts, including 19 face-to-face meetings,
between campaign advisers and the Russian government or Putin surrogates. The campaign has repeatedly denied they occurred or lied about them.
These meetings were not unexpected encounters in a hotel hallways. They were meticulously planned in most instances and understood to be two-way efforts to share information about Clinton and the election.
(3.) Trump repeatedly and vociferously vilified Clinton, Barack Obama, Meryl Steep and The New York Times, among others, but never uttered a negative word about Putin although was the leader of America's arch foe.
In fact, by the end of the campaign Trump's fawning embrace of all things Russian had become such a concern to campaign insiders that they urged him to acknowledge that the Kremlin had interfered. He raged that he would not.
(4.) Trump owes his financial survival to Russians. Many tens of millions of dollars have flowed from Russians into Trump Tower, Trump's other luxury developments and Atlantic City casinos.
Virtually all of this money came from oligarchs and mobsters and was used as pass-throughs for laundering illicit riches stolen from the Russian government or acquired through organized crime.
(5.) Despite being briefed by the FBI that Russia might try to infiltrate the campaign, Trump never passed that on . . . because Russia's involvement in the campaign was an open secret.
No one associated with the campaign spoke out against that collusion nor resigned over it. No one ever went to the FBI to report the multiple contacts. In fact, those contacts were encouraged.
Some of this evidence is circumstantial on its face, but the sheer number of contacts and wall of silence from the campaign in the face of the FBI warning betrays the larger truth.
We will know in the coming year if Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has the evidence to prosecute over that truth. That is, if Trump has not fired him.
Click HERE for a comprehensive Russia scandal timeline.