Friday, August 12, 2016

Is Trump's campaign manager his real link to Putin? Or is Trump himself in debt to Russian oligarchs?

This is from a blog post from Mark Sumner sent out by Daily Kos.   It is a logical, fact-based look at what could be a serious threat to our democracy if Donald Trump were elected president.   So this is worth paying attention to.   Actually, I hope our security forces and CIA are already on top of this.

Sumner begins by suggesting that most of the outlandish things that Donald Trump has been saying lately are really for the purpose of diverting attention from the real, more dangerous story that he does not want us to talk about:   His ties to Putin and Russia.

Here's the gist of Sumner's article:

1.  Trump has repeatedly praised Putin as a strong leader, showing how he obviously admires him.

2.  Trump has talked about pulling the U.S. out of NATO if the other countries don't pull their weight financially.    Putin sees NATO as his enemy because NATO opposes Russia's incursions into eastern Europe, especially the Balkan states that are part of NATO.   We are obligated to defend them if they are attacked.  Putin desperately wants to keep Ukraine from joining NATO, because he would lose this important region.  [Putin also opposes the European Union, because he sees them as his competitor economically for Eastern Europe.  So Trump is spouting Putin-friendly positions about NATO, EU, and Brexit.]

3.  Previously, Trump had expressed support for Ukraine.   But after he brought in Paul Manafort as his campaign chief, he changed his tune to one that is far more friendly to Russia.    For much of the past decade, Manafort worked for—and may still be working for—pro-Russian forces seeking to destroy the democratic government of the Ukraine.

4.  At the Republican convention, Trump's campaign showed zero interest in shaping the platform -- until the last minute when they insisted on one, and only one, change.   And that was to alter the pro-Ukraine language, insisting it be more supportive to Russia.   That was the only thing Trump's campaign tried to influence in the whole platform.   Why that only?   And then both Trump and Manafort denied they had anything to do with re-negotiating this, despite staff members who were in the meetings insisting that it was people who identified themselves as Trump staff, and at one point said they "would have to check with Mr. Trump" about something.'

5.  One week later, the hacked emails from the DNC were released by Wikileaks, and both government and independent investigators identified the hackers as being associated with the Russian government.   Then Trump suggested in a public rally that maybe Russia would also find Hillary Clinton's 30,000 deleted emails.   And since then, the Clinton campaign's email have been hacked, also identified as coming from Russian sources.

6.  In an interview, Trump was either confused, or ignorant, or playing dumbWhatever his motive, he seemed to approve of Putin's annexing Crimea, claiming that the people of Crimea preferred being part of Russia.

Sumner then says:
"Right now, there’s no proof that Trump and Manafort have been involved in a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Vladimir Putin. However, this whole thing stinks to high heaven. This isn’t just a hint of smoke on the horizon, this is a raging forest fire of connections between a United States presidential candidate and a foreign power. . . .  this is the story Donald Trump hopes you forget. . . .

"There’s a great big why that needs to be answered by Manafort and Trump. Because it’s very easy to think of an answer."   Sumner then suggests the answer by quoting Franklin Foer, writing for Slate:
"Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France, well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who profited 'personally and handsomely' from Russian energy deals. . . .  There’s a clear patternPutin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO."
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There are some burning questions here:    Is Trump really leaning toward PutinOr is Paul Manafort manipulating him?    I only read it in one place several weeks ago, and nobody else seems to have picked it up.   But it was said that Manafort is working for the Trump campaign without pay.   Why would he do that?    Is there some other deal that makes it worth his while?    We know he worked for years with the pro-Putin, corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, before the people revolted and ran him out of the country in 2014.  Putin gave him asylum, and he still lives in Russia under Putin's protection.   Manafort has also worked for various other Russian oligarchs who have connections to Putin.

What is clear is that Trump's position toward Ukraine changed after Manafort came on board at his campaign.   And we know that the Trump campaign changed that wording in the RNC platform to favor Russia -- and showed no interest in anything else in it.   And then denied doing it.   Why deny it, if there's nothing to hide?

But here's the other, even more alarming thing.   Credit goes to Josh Marshall of TPM.
*     *     *     *     *
"Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin.  And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. . . . 

"After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. . . . Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks . . . .  He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin. . . . 

"Trump's tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. . . . .

"Trump's foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to [the Russian energy giant] Gazprom.   It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin's policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time. . . . [For emphasis:   this is Trump's foreign policy adviser on Russia, beholden to Putin.]

6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump.  

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So there you have it.   It's pretty clear that, at the moment, Putin is putting his thumb on the scale to try to get Trump elected.    It could be that he simply thinks that it would be to his advantage.   The question is how much leverage Putin would have over a president Trump?   Is he deeply in debt to Russian oligarchs close to Putin?    Or are they simply investors in his projects?  Could they blackmail him?   Or just try to influence him through Manafort?

All these questions seem a little less alarming now that Trump seems to have so little chance of making it to the White House.   But -- and this is a huge but -- what's in all those emails that Russian-connected hackers have found at the DNC and the Clinton campaign?   The latest news is that hundreds of individuals private accounts have been hacked.   Even if there is nothing legally incriminating, there will obviously be things that can be twisted to be politically damaging.

We'll just have to wait for the other shoe to drop.


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