Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Russian connection in the White House and the 2016 campaign: a coming together of many elements

The explosive revelations by FBI Director James Comey before the House Intelligence Committee March 20 that Donald Trump’s campaign’s  Russian Connections had been under investigation by the FBI since last July raise many questions.  While there is yet no  proof publicly provided yet  that Trump  or his close associates were  in collusion with Russian agents, there are enough smoke  plumes to hang like a cloud over the White House.  

Those smoke plumes  represent three elements coming together at once:  Trump’s  long time desire o do business in Russia, those close to him providing advice and translating his general friendliness to Russia into foreign policy that was also friendly to Russia, and an electorate that was weary of foreign entanglements and  NATO obligations and cared more about their own domestic agenda than Russian connections. Those political currents matched Trump’s  America First  or Make America great again sloganeering, but they also played into Russian foreign policy aspirations to move into the Baltics and Montenegro in the Balkans.

The influence of Russia on the 2016 election is also slowly being revealed  or charged in press reports and leaks from whistle blowers  within the US government or foreign dossiers, That there was a concerted cyber attack from Russia  to infuence the 2016 election in the form of planted fake news stories, hacking data bases,  leaking  transcripts unflattering to Hillary Clinton, were  directly and indirectly confirmed by Comey’s testimony before the House committee.

It is possible Donald Trump himself turns out to be innocent of any collusion. Due to his business dealings,  he was already kindly disposed to Russia and President Vladimir Putin well before the campaign. Trump’s  interest and attempt in doing business in Russia  since 1969 from building a residential tower and holding his enterprise of Miss Universe pageantry i Russia in 2013 are hardly secrets. Given the timing of the Trump campaign, and that neither he nor anyone else thought he would win, his bromance with Putin trading mutual admirations and supporting Russian foreign policy initiatives could be attributed to improving his business opportunities there. That made Trump fertile ground on which others of close ties to Russia to plant pro Russian policy seeds as it became clear Trump had a chance to be a viable candidate..

How likely is it  pro Russian sympathizers in his campaign  or White House staff influenced him to shape  positions on foreign policy similar to Russia’s or influence the GOP platform? Was there  a deal to relieve Russia of sanctions?  They were well positioned to do it.  His campaign staff , his cabinet and  White House advisers, were full of Russian friendlies.   His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort had provided paid campaign strategy and services to the now deposed Putin confident and leader of the Ukraine, and in he signed a contract, for million per year 2006-2009 with an oligarch close to Putin to promote Putin's interest the world and US.. .. Manafort also was also paid  as a consultant to   the Montenegro government Russia was influencing. Roger Stone is suspected communicating with Russian intelligence in cyber matters during the campaign. Carter Page,active the the Russian energy sector and an open apologist for Putin, was a campaign hanger on. Two members of his cabinet have Russian ties. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was Exxon president and got official recognition for his friendship with Russia. Trump’s old friend and new Commerce Secretary, is Wilbur Ross, major investor in a  Cyprus bank known for money laundering  for Russian clients .   His constant campaign companion, and later  briefly national security advisor Gen Mike Flynn had  been paid to promote Russian state sponsored television.

The Montenegro, Manafort, Russia, McCain, NATO entanglements

The Montenegro entanglements, Manafort, Russia, McCain, NATO

There is a Russian/Manafort connection with Montenegro dating years ago, but before NATO is an application for membership.  At their first  NATO meeting during the time of the Trump administration,
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not attend and will be in Moscow instead.  The Russian interest in Montenegro is historic.  Sen. McCain has been interested and knowledgeable about Montenegro and got embroiled over a spat with Libertarian isolationist Rand Paul. The spat got personal.  The following post is from a facebook posting recently.  The Manafort Russian connection is most likely the subject of the FBI investigation into Russian influence in the US Presidential Elections in 2016.

The Manafort/Russian/McCain issue  connection was described in

 The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. that is one of the best in the Mediterranean which Russia has coveted for centuries. It is particularly suited for submarines.It is located directly across the narrow Adriatic sea from Italy. Russia had tried to stealth take over Montenegro by huge investments in real estate and energy. However, the situation is not simple in politics there, but bringing Montenegro into NATO is a historical opportunity to block Russia's attempt to grab the port there. It is far more important to US strategic interest because of the port than even the Ukraine or Georgia. Paul is the one looking unhinged; not McCain. So important is that port to Russia that recently uncovered was an attempt to assassinate the PM of Montenegro who was advocating joining NATO. Russia was using Serbian operatives.

Russian security services were involved in the attempted assassination of Montenegro's prime minister in October, the Montenegrin special prosecutor said.

GOP between a rock and a hard place on repeal/replace Obamacare

The GOP is between a rock and a hard place with repeal and replace Obamacare. They break campaign promises with a plan that either fails to repeal Obamacare or it double crosses their voters with a replacement with much worThe Gse, not better, coverage. Tomorrow the House may vote on the Ryan/Trump replacement or not. It may not be brought to the floor because it lacks the votes to pass. The ultra conservatives oppose it because it does not repeal Obamacare as they promised.Voting "no" serves two purposes. They will not face the sting from angry voters for yanking their health insurance from them or a threat  from a more conservative primary challenger if they are in gerry mandered safe GOP districts. They are already so far on the right and  they are using a far right rationale to keep that segment on their side. Others, the few GOP representatives in swing or districts Hilllary carried who vote for the GOP bill, will face a backlash from voters in 2018 who feel they have been doublecrossed since the proposed GOP bill breaks another promise. It brings with it no affordable insurance for 24 million and higher premiums and deductions for others between the age of 50-65 years old. The replacement is a worse plan, not a better plan and it is going to hurt the very groups that voted for Trump.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Russian connection red flags were flying very early in the Trump campaign

The House hearing on the Trump tweet and the Russia connection yesterday in which the FBI director and the national security chief publicly confirmed that they could find no evidence Pres. Obama ordered a wire tap on Trump towers and that since last July the FBI was investigatiing the Russia connection, was historical.  The red flags were flying even before then regarding the Russian influence in the campaign.  Below is myblog posting which was published in the Sky Hi News June 19, 2016.Paul Manafort, mentioned in the column, joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was named campaign chair in April, resigning in August.. Beginning in March 2106, Trump began his anti-NATO crusade.

By the September "Commander in Chief" forum, Trump's foreign policy was in synch with Russia's in many ways.  In a September 8 post in this blog, I wrote the following: "Donald Trump in the recent "Commander in Chief" forum called Vladimir Putin a better leader than President Obama.  That bromance between Trump and Putin is more than just a matter of flattery and egos.  It has real repercussions for future conduct of foreign policy if Trump is elected. 

 Trump supports foreign policies that dovetail neatly with Russia's,, excusing the Russian grab of the Crimea, going
along with the stealth invasion of Eastern Ukraine, calling NATO obsolete as a military defense alliance, and fuzzy about whether Russia's ally Assad in Syria must go, None of those policies are in America's or our allies' interests. Only when it comes to fighting ISIS do Russia and the US have much in common, but even then the devil will be when any peace agreements are negotiated, as Russia will be firm to protect Assad."

The June 19 post about the early red flags:
There are many in Grand County who have more than a passing interest in what happens to NATO.  They still have family in eastern European countries that are current members of NATO and were once Soviet satellites.  Lithuanians and Poles  have settled here and have become respected members of our community. Those countries belong to NATO.  Other Eastern European settlers in Grand County from countries not in NATO are Russians and Moldovans.
Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians (the three Baltic States) and Poles in particular must be looking at alarming statements from Donald Trump for his comments that “We don’t really need NATO in its current form. NATO is obsolete…if we have to walk, we walk.”  Many  look with raised eyebrows  at the  sometimes called “bromance” with Russian President  Vladimir Putin.  Putin called Trump  "a brighter person, talented without a doubt." Putin reiterated has admiration of Donald Trump June 19 on Fareed Zakaria ‘s CNN program, as well as asking why the West still needs NATO.
Trump’s public assertion that not only is NATO obsolete, but their members are not living up to their promises to contribute. There is far more at stake than money.
Russia is on the march in a seeming attempt to reassemble former Soviet satellites , restoring past glories.  Russians also resent and fear  their former neighboring buffer states becoming NATO members and permitting missile defense installations (even if the defense systems are turned toward the Middle East) . Their grabbing  or helping surrogates grab   parts of non NATO members of Georgia, the Crimea and eastern Ukraine has been seen as a threat in particular to the NATO member Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  NATO was quick to move more forces to the Baltics in response as a warning to Russia not to mess with members of NATO. Without NATO, the small Baltic states in particular would be vulnerable to a Crimea and Ukraine like grabs, making Poland and Romania especially at risk. In his June CNN comments, Putin slyly ignored Russia’s land grabs which would have answered his question of Why NATO?

There may not be a conspiracy involved, just a case of Trump’s ignorance or isolationist advocacy or wanting to make a deal with Russia,  but there is an interesting connection with his most inner advisor. It is his campaign chairman,  Paul Manafort, who was a political consultant to  once  president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was attempting to stop some in his country who wanted greater trade ties with the West, while he was closely connected to Russia  and wanted his country to be more connected to them. A revolution followed in 2014.  During that revolution, Yanukovych fled first to the eastern Ukraine and now resides in exile in Russia.

Many in the United States’ foreign relations community on both sides of the aisle  look at Donald Trump’s foreign policy with alarm.  A particularly large howl was raised in a March open  letter  by 121 GOP national security leaders.  George W Bush’s secretary of State, Richard Armitage, announced  this month he would vote for Hillary Clinton. would vote for Hillary Clinton.