A staple of Trump’s presidency is misdirection. It is his ultimate tool, the one thing I can count on in any story about Trump: the response and what topic he brings up to change the story. His latest attempt, his claim that Obama wiretapped him during his last few years in office, really shocked me. This is a current president claiming that the former administration didn’t just break the law but targeted him personally. I could write a column on this but instead we need to talk about what is going to be a major note in Trump’s legacy, what he is trying to divert our attention from.
Trump and his administration have been tied to Russian governments and businesses for a while now. Trump himself held his Ms. Universe pageant in Moscow back in 2013. Now before I get into this topic there is something that I should say. This story is in development right now and there are still a lot of questions to answer and many connections that are unclear. What I want to do is clarify what connections Trump’s administration has to Vladimir Putin and what actions have been taken that should be scrutinized. The thing to think about in all this is not just the connections but the possibility of Russia legitimately interfering with an American election, something every American should be concerned about, regardless of whether or not Trump was your candidate.
Let’s start with Jeff Sessions, who is trying to disconnect himself as much as he can from this story. Sessions on January 10 answered a questionnaire provided by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy that asked “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” The candidate Sessions simply answered “No.” Before this Sen. Al Franken asked Sessions directly, “If there was any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this (2016) campaign, what would you do?” Sessions answered that he was unaware of any activities.
It has since come out that Sessions met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US. One of these conversations was back in September, during the what US intelligence officials have dubbed the “Russian cyber campaign.” Now during the time Sessions was a senator was a member of the Armed Service Committee as well as Trump’s policy adviser. Now I cannot say what was discussed at either of those meetings, as far as I have read no media or official can say; they were fairly private meetings. However, the fact that Sessions did not disclose this during the meeting is surprising; Sessions had joined the Trump campaign back in February 2016.
Now I would like to pause and go over Kislyak for a second because he will return in this story later. Ambassador Kislyak is often described as a gracious diplomat, opening embassy doors for American politicians and press. He is a well-known figure amongst the DC community, he can be seen all over the discrict going here and there for business purposes. He bounces back and forth from here and Russia on a regular basis. Accroding to a CNN report, “current and former senior US government officials” consider Kislyak to be “one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington.” Now I would treat the CNN report with skepticism. Many US ambassadors and analysts deny the claims against the Russian ambassador, as do the Russian government. The FBI is not investigating Kislyak for espionage in anyway.
However, ambassador Kislyak does have another tie to the Trump campaign and this one had to resign, Michael Flynn. Flynn was the former Trump national security advisor who resigned this last February. Flynn has been shown to take money from Russian entities such as the government controlled propaganda network RT. This was back in 2015 and attended a gala where he celebrating the network’s 10th anniversary. He was seated close to Putin who he met at the event. The controversy here is that there are laws currently placed in the system that prohibit retired military officers from accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments. Flynn had lied during a Yahoo interview about the payments nature, claiming that he had been paid by his speaking bureau directly. He later admitted that the network did pay for the trip and emails were eventually released by his speaking bureau that shows that his fees were covered by the RT network directly as well as accommodations for his son, who was serving as chief of staff. Flynn is said to have resigned after failing to disclose this information with vice-president Mike Pence.
The RT network is a Kremlin funded organization that is part of other propaganda networks. In January, US intelligence officers concluded that RT propaganda played a role in influencing the 2016 election.
Again, Kislyak met with another political advisor to Trump, Carter Page; whom also met with managers from Rosneft, an oil company in Russia that for the most part is owned by the Russian government. Page also owns shares in the energy giant, Gazprom. Gazprom is an energy giant owned by the Russian state as well. Page is known in the campaign as both a policy advisor and an oil industry consultant. The story around Page mostly comes down to: did he open private communications with Russian oligarchs over the possible lifting of economic sanctions if Donald Trump won the election. Page did write to Comey back in September to clear him of these allegations. No word has come from the FBI on the status of the investigation at this point.
Now we get to the last advisor we will talk about, Paul Manafort. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager back in 2016. Manafort has agreed to testify in front of House Intelligence Committee, as have the Roger Stone and Carter Page. Manafort himself is connected to a couple of oligarchs such as Dmirty Firtash and Oleg Deripaska.
Comey has not clarified which individuals are under investigation and in order to keep a level head we need to think about some things. Even if the probe comes back with connections to the Kremlin, does not mean that criminal charges will be filed. What I believe is important in this entire development is the fact that many lied about their connections and have been very candid with the fact that an election could very well have been messed with by a foreign entity. However, this is not a witch hunt, there are a lot of questions left unanswered and I hope this probe does disclose some things.
As a nation, we have to answer something ourselves, what kind of relationship do we want with Russia? Many saw the Obama administration alienate Russian officials and would like a much friendlier relationship with the country. I would say that its not that easy. Russia is a country that is known for racist and homophobic ties that also has a history of harming members of the press. We are currently bombing areas that Russia I also bombing and that also makes it difficult to determine who we are to the nation, let alone Crimea and Ukraine controversy that hang over US officials heads every day that goes by.
One of the most importnt qestions to me is Trump’s relationship with Wikileaks. What becomes the million dolar qustion, the one that could easily amount to treason is did Wikileaks pubish its information on the DNC hack, which came from a Russian intelligence agency, in order to further the Trump campaign in the 2016 election? Wikileaks is actually a really interesting topic, one I hope to cover in a later issue, anyone should read the history of the free press organization and develop an opinion for yourself. Trump has had a vey candid attitude towards asking Wikileasks for information, and this can be dangerous. Wikileaks publishes all regardles of the danger of it, at times breaking even our own consitutional ideas of a free press. Again though, this is a topic for another issue.