A Communist plot to influence a U.S. presidential election has long been the stuff of Hollywood fantasts and pulp-fiction writers, but there is evidence that Vladimir Putin's regime is working clandestinely to help elect Donald Trump, something that in this strangest of political years shouldn't necessarily surprise. What should surprise and has the potential to blow the lid off of Trump's candidacy is the big reason behind Trump's bromance with Putin: His deep ties to Russia and dependence on money from the autocrat's corrupt buddies.
What is known for sure, according to cyber experts, is that hackers backed by the Russian president -- mostly likely members of the state intelligence service -- broke into the Democratic National Committee's email system and stole 20,000 messages, some of them containing embarrassing confirmations of the DNC's thuggish infighting. The data dump was then published through the obliging Wikileaks organization to try to legitimize and maximize the cyber theft in an effort to influence the election as the Democratic National Convention opened today in Philadelphia.
Let's be real. It's not likely that significant numbers of voters will fall into Trump's clammy embrace just because of the leaks; in fact, few if any will. But let's stay real. The larger question is less whether Trump, his beleaguered business empire and presidential campaign played any role in the email skullduggery than a rather amazing number of "coincidences" involving Trump and Moscow that may be indicative of a far darker aspect of his campaign and what a Trump presidency would portend.
These "coincidences" seem less so when you consider that Trump has commingled his financial and personal affairs for years and has continued to do so with unapologetic recklessness as a candidate. When it comes to Russia, this has included Trump's undisguised admiration for Putin despite the former KGB operative's increasingly autocratic grip on the former Soviet Union and solicitousness toward Russian foreign policy interests, including an oft-repeated promise that as president he would not abide by the U.S.'s long-standing commitment to go to the aid of a NATO nation in the Baltics if it were attacked by Russia.
Continuing to stay real, let's also understand that Trump's love affair with Putin and Russia has less to do with ideology or a seemingly shared love of nationalism.
Trump is many things, most of them exceedingly foul, but he is not about to throw over his beloved American capitalism for that strange Russian communist-capitalist hybrid. What Trump has not hesitated to do is take money from anyone and anyplace regardless of who they are and what their values may be as American banks have, one by one, blackballed him because of his shady practices and enormous debt load, which stands at a mind boggling $630 million.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has aggregated several of these links between Trump and Russian interests:
* As Trump's debt load has grown, he has become increasingly reliant on no-questions-asked loans from sleazy characters close to Putin. Typical is Trump's Soho development in Manhattan, which foundered because of lawsuits over his all-too-common efforts to defraud investors until secret financing was arranged.
The financiers were Salvatore Lauria, a twice-imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to Putin and the Russian criminal underworld, and Alexander Mashkevich, a Kazakh billionaire once charged with corruption.
* Paul Manafort, who replaced the "disgraced" Corey Lewandowski as Trump's campaign manager and is his top advisor, spent most of the last 10 years as a communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian prime minister whose ouster in 2014 led to the ongoing crisis in the former Soviet republic.
The Trump campaign was indifferent to the platform at the Republican National Convention with one conspicuous and unnoticed exception: It strong armed the platform committee into striking a pledge to assist Ukraine against Russian military aggression.
* Carter Page, who is Trump's advisor on Russia and Europe, has devoted most of his career to sundry jobs with Gazprom, the Russian energy giant.
Gazprom, which is like the entire U.S. energy industry rolled into one company, is a key source of revenue and patronage for Putin, and Page has been an unapologetic admirer of his policies.
* Retired Army General Michael Flynn, who is one of Trump's national security advisors, sat with Putin at a dinner celebrating the Kremlin-backed media network RT and was paid to give a speech at the event.
Flynn retweeted an anti-Semitic message blaming Jewish interests talk called into question A Putin-Trump link.
* Putin has worked methodically and successfully to align all Russian state-controlled media behind Trump.
This media, in turn, has helped sow discord in Western-alligned European countries.
As Josh Marshall puts it:
"There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarch and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That's simply not something that can be waved off or ignored."
This whole thing has echoes of Cold War propagandistic weirdness, although to suggest, as some people surely will, that Trump the master manipulator could be some sort of a Manchurian candidate is . . . well, not credible.
We'll put aside for the moment the fact that Wikileaks, founded by the sainted Julian Assange, is doing the bidding of Moscow.
We'll also put aside the fact that the cyber bullies who hacked the DNC emails are said to be the same bunch who earlier hacked servers at the White House, State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
And we'll put aside the fact that as the Republican nominee, Trump will be getting high-level national security briefings on Russia, which is deeply worrying to the intelligence community.
What matters now and matters most is the possibility -- no, make that probability -- that the man who will say and do anything to defeat Clinton also is doing the bidding of Moscow, intentionally or otherwise, a view that only a few days ago seemed bizarre but is now being taken seriously by the White House and FBI. And should be taken seriously by you.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN