Thursday, March 16, 2017

Further On Down The Road: Where Donald Trump's Russia Scandal Now Stands

We're far enough along the Russia scandal continuum to hazard a few conclusions.  The first and foremost is that Donald Trump's foaming-at-the-mouth rants that the news media and Shadow Government President Barack Obama are out to get him, as well as continued stonewalling on cooperating with investigators, have all the earmarks of someone who knows that reporters, with an assist from leaky intelligence services furious at their boss for his disloyalty, may be closing in on the truth.   
This seems like an odd assessment since the news has been dominated by other big stories of late.  Like Trumpcare solving America's ills by potentially killing off millions of old folks, a goodly number of them Trumpkins.  Or the latest white nationalist blast from a Trump ally.  And my fave of the moment, those Orwellian Republicans trying to ram through legislation requiring the barons of business to have their serfs genetic tested. 
Anyhow, this is this is where we are:  
* There has not yet been disclosure of a smoking gun that would link Trump to the Russian effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections, but that collusion -- possibly in the form of the innumerable contacts that Trump's surrogates made with Russians before and after the election -- remains the focus of attention. 
* The FBI's Counterintelligence Division is actively investigating that collusion, while there is no question that Russian President Putin ordered his intelligence services to try to influence the election, something that all U.S. intelligence agree occurred in the form of widespread hacking and disinformation campaigns against Democratic interests.  
* Despite that unanimity, and now the indictment of two Russian intelligence agents for the breech of 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014, the Trump White House has taken no action against Russia while leaving in place Obama administration sanctions that it criticized but has not lifted for fear of angering Republican allies in Congress over its benign views of the Kremlin. 
* Democrats have been insisting without success for weeks that a special prosecutor be named to investigate those ties, but now Stand Up Republic and other independent conservative groups are joining that chorus, asserting that Trump would not be concealing his taxes, violating the emoluments clause and signing suspect executive orders if Republicans would only stand up to him.
* Trump's claim that Barack Obama illegally ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower, the product of an outburst of angry tweets over continuing Russian collusion allegations, have blown up with no evidence to back the allegation and even his staunches supporters repudiating him, with some threatening to hold up the deputy attorney general's nomination.
* Among the leads being pursued by investigators are the unexplained communications between a Trump Organization computer server and Alfa Bank, which has ties to Putin, including 2,700 "look-up" messages to initiate communications between the two entities, during the period there were repeated contacts between Trump officials and Russian intelligence. 
* Another lead involves Michael Flynn, who new documents reveal received $68,000 in fees from a Russian propaganda network and other entities prior to being named national security adviser by Trump, a post in which he lasted 24 days after being forced out amid reports that he had lied about contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. 
* Yet another lead involves Trump confidante Roger Stone, a dirty trickster who appears to have had advance knowledge of Russian disclosures of Hillary Clinton emails through WikiLeaks because he may have communicated privately with Guccifer 2.0, one of the hackers who is linked to the Russian effort. 
* Wikileaks, whose public support of Putin and disdain for most things American has been affirmed by founder Julian Assange, changed its web hosting to a Moscow-based server several days before the first leaks were published on September 30 and has ties to Guccifer 2.0, who has had back-channel communications with Assange.
There are possibly benign explanations for some of these intrigues.   
Stone is a practiced exaggerator.  Contacts between the Trump and bank servers could be spam.  Discussions between Trump associates like future Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador could be red herrings.  Some Trump aides might have been under inadvertent surveillance.  Repeated White House denials of wrongdoing more a product of a culture of lying even when their is no reason to do so.  The declassified version of the intelligence community's assessment that Putin was actively trying to help Trump is vague, circumstantial and parts are irrelevant.  And so one and so forth.   
Then there is my favorite explanation: There was no clear-cut deal between Trump and Putin to cooperate in stealing the election because Putin's intention was merely to try to wound Clinton, a sworn enemy of Russia's expansionist interests, and like many of us he never expected Trump to win.   
There also are counter-conspiracy theories making the rounds in the right-wing fever swamp, including a claim that the CIA actually hacked the Democrats and made it look like the Russians did.  Ha!  
But I keep coming back to the dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele. 
Steele asserts -- and the FBI was prepared to pay him to keep digging -- that the Russians had been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years and had personal and financial kompromat (compromising material) on him that could be used as blackmail.   
And that in early January, just days before Trump's inauguration, the Obama administration scrambled to preserve and distribute the substantial intelligence it had uncovered on Trump's Russia ties, leaving as as long a paper trail (or "bread crumbs," if you will) as possible across a broad swath of government agencies to reduce the chances of a coverup.   

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