Monday, December 3, 2018

The tangled web of Russian-Trump deceit

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, December 5, 2018

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive.” per Walter Scott

So what if Donald Trump lied about his Trump Tower Moscow  negotiations while he was running for the presidency. He had claimed many times  that he had “nothing to do with Russia. I never did”.  Last week after his personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty  to lying to Congress about Trump's financial interests in Russia,  Trump changed his tune to” it was no crime and there was no deal. “ There will be many who take Trump  at his word  and leave it at that.  So long as he was not lying under oath to law enforcement , he has a point. However, he has lied to voters during and after the 2016 campaign, and American foreign policy was shaped to be in sync with Russia in ways that would be harmful the US allies and the Atlantic alliance. He created a web of wilful liars under oath and in public  to support  the myth of his lack of conflict of  financial interests in Russia since Trump’s puzzling  “bromance”  with Russia and Putin  had raised many eye brows.

Donald Trump had often advocated weakening NATO throughout 2015-2016 and even in his presidency.  NATO expansion to former Soviet satellites was  a thorn in the side of Russian national interests.  Trump’s fuming about NATO members not contributing enough was his public rationale but the weakening of NATO served both Putin’s national security designs and Trump’s continuing strategy to butter up Putin. Trump also advocated a softer policy toward Russia's grab of the Crimea and loosening sanctions imposed to punish Russia as far back as 2015. Why such a departure from traditional US foreign policy? Did Trump have undisclosed financial ties with Russia? Trump had vigorously denied that.   Did the Russians have something more  on him than just an alleged  carnal Moscow night ? Did the Russians see a Trump’s presidency as an unwitting asset to their national interests, motivating their interference in the 2016 campaign?

We do not have to wait for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to present his final report to learn about the web of  deceit or to get an understanding of what could have motivated Trump's Russia romance. Mueller's court filing documents regarding  Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Mike Flynn, and others contain much information. Mueller's indictments documents  also exposed in detail  methods Russia used in their attempt to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

The timing of the negotiations to build and finance the Moscow Trump Tower, as disclosed in the Cohen related court documents, coincided with Donald Trump’s  pronouncements as he was campaigning for president with  words and policies that favored Russia. Trump did have business interests in Russia  well into his status as presumptive GOP nominee.  and the Cohen guilty plea court filings  exposed Trump  as lying  to the American people about it. Special Counsel Robert Mueller signed off on the documents charging Cohen  with  lying to Congress for falsely claiming the Trump Tower deal was dead in January 2016 when  emails showed Cohen and Trump were actually  in communication with one another and  Cohen was still pursuing the deal  with Kremlin official Dmitri Peskov until  June 14, 2016 when Trump was already his party's presumed nominee.

  Key to the Moscow tower deal was getting financing from a certain Russian bank. The bank , other banks, and oligarchs were sanctioned by the U.S Congress to punish Russia for grabbing  Crimea  and  the sanctions needed to be lifted if the project was to be funded.  The deal was called off on June 14,  2016.  In the transition period Trump’s National Security adviser Mike Flynn was in secret communication with Russian ambassador  about the sanctions.  Flynn pleaded guilty to charges he lied to the FBI about it  and he  flipped to become  a witness for Mueller's probe. Sentencing is this month .

 In March 2016, Paul Manafort joined the campaign as a “volunteer” and in June rose to campaign chair. Manafort’s prior gig as  political consultant was the former pro Russian leader of Ukraine who opposed closer ties to the West.  During Manfort's campaign activities, Trump's polcies favoring Russia became more focused and specific. Manafort was charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller .faced trial in August 2018, and was found guilty of  bank and tax fraud . In September  he  pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the US and attempts to tamper with witnesses.  He violated his plea deal to be Mueller's  witness  in the Russian investigation and is now facing sentencing. He already sits in the blog posted dated July 31, 2018: Did Manafort's participation in the Trump campaign shape Donald Trump's views on foreign policy?

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