|© NANCY OHANIAN / USED WITH PERMISSION|
Believe it or not, there still are people in addition to the president of the United States who claim to not believe Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. And there are a larger number of people who claim to still not believe that the Trump campaign -- and possibly Donald Trump himself -- colluded with Vladimir Putin in his successful scheme to cybersabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign.
This brings us to the Russia scandal timeline I have been piecing together over the past year, an event-by-event account, with sidelights added to help put those events into a larger historical context, of the most explosive scandal since Soviet spies stole atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago.
Although this timeline now has over 730 entries, an extraordinary number that continues to grow, a Trump apologist might see it as very big pile of circumstantial evidence. To an extent, that is true. But for those seeking the truth (and justice), hiding in plain view is compelling -- and irrefutable -- evidence of interference and collusion that is far from being circumstantial.
This evidence includes some 20 instances in 2016 alone where there were face-to-face meetings between members of the Trump campaign team and Russians intent on insinuating the Kremlin into the campaign apparatus. (How many times did campaign team members meet with the Brits, French, Germans, Japanese and reps from other allied nations? Zip. Zero. Nada.)
These interactions followed years of efforts by Russian oligarchs, mobsters, spies and Putin himself to soften up Trump. Not because it was understood well before Trump announced his improbable run for president that he might do so, but because the ailing business empire of the desperately needy entrepreneur and celebrity television star was a convenient conduit for money laundering and propagandizing the Russian government brand, things of which Trump was well aware and, in some instances, for which he is criminally culpable.
And more recently, when Trump did decide to run for president, he became a witting partner in Putin's quest to return Russia to the glory of the Cold War Soviet Union and knock the U.S. from its perch as the only superpower in return for help that was invaluable not so much in bolstering the Trump campaign, but undermining Clinton's because Trump as president was a sure bet to try to cozy up to Moscow as president.
For this Trump also is culpable because federal law explicitly prohibits foreign entities from contributing financially or materially to federal election campaigns and those campaigns from accepting such help.
THE TIMELINE IS VERY MUCH a work in progress.
Recent additions include what is emerging as one of the more incendiary aspects of the scandal: The Kremlin's long courtship of the National Rifle Association, which dates back to at least 2013.
Despite the NRA's tireless and tiresome American flag-waving, it has openly embraced the extreme political views of the post-Soviet Union government hierarchy in its overall effort to cultivate rightist-revanchist groups at home and internationally, which further cements my view that the NRA has become a domestic terrorist group and a frighteningly powerful one at that. It is probable that Russian money was surreptitiously funneled through a secretive fundraising arm of NRA, which is not required to disclose the names of donors, to help Trump. Thirty million bucks is the most frequently cited figure.
Will Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller seize on the cozy relationship between the NRA's Trump sycophancy and Putin's own adulators?
Mueller may well do so, but there are a number of other threads in the timeline that we are aware he is pursuing, including allegations of money laundering -- a factor in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictments -- as well as the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the Trump campaign brain trust and Russians who promised "dirt" on Clinton.
In the end, however, translating that clear-cut culpability -- all that evidence of interference and collusion -- into future indictments is another matter altogether.
THEN THERE ARE THE BACKSTORIES peeking out between entries in the timeline.
Among these backstories are the peregrinations of FBI Director James Comey over the Clinton emails and the pushback by congressional Republicans that commenced in late 2017 as they rushed to the beleaguered Trump's defense and charged, among other things, that Mueller's investigation is biased and, for good measure, revived long completed investigations against Clinton and her family foundation.
The most important of these backstories is the chaotic and often bumbling response of the U.S. intelligence community and Obama administration to this unprecedented assault from America's greatest foe on the bedrock of its democracy.
The earliest warnings of Russian mischief manifested themselves in the hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails by a Kremlin cyberhacking team in June 2015, some 17 months before the election. The FBI became aware of the hack in September 2015 but did not actively investigate it even after Britain's GCHQ, equivalent to the U.S.'s NSA, first became aware of suspicious interactions between individuals connected to Trump and Russian agents. and passed on the information to the FBI and CIA in late 2015.
By mid-2016, the White House was getting credible warnings of Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign-Russia ties.
Over a five-month interval beginning in late July 2016, the Obama administration secretly debated options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure or sanctions that would devastate the Russian economy.
After several futile back channel communications with the Kremlin to cease and desist, the Obama administration publicly accused the Russian government of hacking into DNC emails in early October 2016 but stopped well short of accusing Putin of wholesale efforts to interfere in the election and the Trump campaign's involvement for fear of being accused of trying to influence the outcome.
History will judge this muted response to be a profound error in judgment.