Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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

This posting was also carried as a column in editions of the Sky Hi Daily News, March 29, 2017

The explosive revelation 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 raises many questions.  While there is yet no  proof publicly provided that Trump  or his close associates were  in collusion with Russian agents, there are enough smoke  plumes coming together that hang like one big cloud over the White House.  Whether there is fire in that smoke is the question.

Those smoke plumes  represent three elements coming together at once:  Trump’s  long time desire to do business in Russia, those close to him and friendly to Russia during the campaign and into the White House, and an electorate that was weary of foreign entanglements and  NATO obligations and who cared more about their own domestic agenda than Russian connections. Those political currents were expressed in 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 the Balkans.

The influence of Russia on the 2016 election is also slowly being revealed  or alleged by media fed by leaks from whistle blowers  within the US government or in foreign dossiers. A concerted cyber attack from Russia  to infuence the 2016 election in the form of planted fake news stories, hacking data bases and  leaking  transcripts unflattering to Hillary Clinton, were  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. During Trump's presidential campaign, few thought he would win, incluing Trump himself.. His bromance with Putin and supporting Russian foreign policy initiatives could be attributed to promoting his business opportunities there with the power that be. That made Trump fertile ground on which others of close ties to Russia could plant pro Russian foreign policy seeds when it became clear Trump had a chance to be a viable candidate..

How likely is it  pro Russian sympathizers in his campaign  or transistion or White House staff influenced his  positions on foreign policy similar to Russia’s or influence the GOP platform?  His campaign staff , his cabinet and  White House advisers, were full of Russian friendlies .  His campaign chairman from May to mid August , Paul Manafort, had provided paid services to the now deposed Putin confident and former president of the Ukraine, and he signed a contract, for millions per year 2006-2009 with an oligarch close to Putin to promote Putin's interest in the world . Manafort also was also paid  as a consultant to the Montenegro government Russia was influencing. Roger Stone is suspected of communicating with Russian intelligence in cyber matters. 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.
(AP story)

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