By The Policy Geek
To Russia With Love
Trump loves him some Putin, saying often that he is "honored" by the Russian leader's praise.
From a wide variety of reports we can aggregate that Donald has more than a passing interest in Vladimir's flattery.
There is so much to report, in fact, this article reads more like a classic Russian novel, long and full of dark imagery.
So if you have the stomach for it, sit back, grab a glass of cold vodka, a couple of olives, and put your feet up. We're gonna be here awhile.
PART 1 - LOVE ON THE VOLGA
A Budding Bromance
NPR reported that Donald J. Trump got his very first intelligence briefing as a candidate. Some people are saying these briefings, in the hands of Donald Trump, might be a little risky. Many people are saying DT's unusual amount of fondness for ruthless Russian dictator Vladimir Putin makes him an unwitting puppet, and a security risk. We're not saying, but people are saying, including Trump, that even after he gets this intel from the State Department, he doesn't plan on using it.
“Very easy to use them, but I won’t use them, because they’ve made such bad decisions.” Trump told Fox & Friends, referring to the intel briefings about supposed weapons of mass destruction that led President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. “If we would have never touched it, it would have been a lot better,” said Trump, who proudly declared earlier this year that “I love the poorly educated.”
Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.
Something weird is going on with Trump and his "Russia Is Our Buddy" comments that have been peppered throughout his run for president. Each day, although Russia is not in the headlines, Trump stretches out and brings them into the conversation. Repeatedly. It's really odd. According to The Atlantic, "Donald has offered the most pro-Kremlin slate of statements of any U.S. presidential candidate since Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party campaign in 1948." He brings up the Russian dictator, talks about what a strong leader Vladimir is, and has even taken to talking directly to the cameras at a press conference to say, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." (Photo: House Member Adam Kinzinger (R), AP)
Well that was odd, right? So odd, in fact, that Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger has had to call for Donald Trump to EXTREME VET the Putin-leaning guy running his campaign. This demand has come on the heels of a New York Times report claiming Trump's very own campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the dude who muscled out the last dude, has been linked to millions in secret payments from a pro-Russia political party based in Ukraine. (Photo: Actual Tweet, Not Satire)
This isn't conspiracy theory stuff, and every major outlet in the world is talking about it, so why shouldn't we?
Although it is public knowledge that Paul Manafort was an adviser for the now ousted Ukrainian leader, Victor Yanukovych, it wasn't so much public knowledge that Manafort was paid more than $10 million to do it. Since 2004, tens of millions of Ukrainian dollars have flowed through Manafort's hands, in one form or another, and it appears the cash was for bribes, takeovers, and setting up offshore hedge funds for all involved. Nice work if you can get it.
Perhaps it was the monotony of it all. Perhaps it was the long winters. Either way, it seems shortly after Trump announced his candidacy, Manafort maneuvered his way into replacing then campaign manager Corey Lewandowski rather smoothly. Transition complete. By the way, did you know that Paul Manafort is reportedly working for Trump for free? Yes, that seems to be true, too. So why is he doing it?
Following Manafort's Money
PART 2 - SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
Manafort's Job History
What do we know about this last world leader the guy worked for? What is it that Manafort does that we could like about his support for the GOP frontrunner?
Being associated with unsavory leaders whose interests run counter to U.S. policy, or who have been involved in repression against citizens, is de rigueur for Manafort's brand of political consulting. His company formerly worked for Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, among other terrible human beings. Perhaps Manafort just works on image building, branding; maybe he's just an ideas guy. Like Trump, the former head of the Ukraine wasn't really very well liked outside his lavish homestead. And, like Trump, Victor Yanukovych is famous for, among other things, threatening judges, imprisoning press, and shooting at protesters. (Photo: Another actual tweet)
OK, Trump never shot anyone. But he did say at a rally, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters." And yes, Trump never really threatened any judges, but he did publicly take the time to ridicule a standing Federal Judge currently reviewing a lawsuit against The Donald by questioning the man's heritage. And yes, he never imprisoned any press, but he has revoked press passes and publicly invoked hate and violence against reporters traveling and covering his campaign run.
Who Cares About Ukraine
In the years after the Soviet Union tore down their wall, those countries that broke off from the USSR went about the business of establishing their own independent governing bodies. By 1996, Ukraine had elected a president, formed a Parliament, and established their Constitution of Ukraine. The country flourished, and relative peace surrounded the region.
Since the turn of the century, Ukraine passed a series of amendments shifting certain responsibilities away from the office of the President giving them instead to Parliament. The presidential power to nominate a Prime Minister became the duty of elected members of Parliament, for instance, and the office of the president lost the right to dismiss members of the Cabinet of Ukraine. Power began flowing to the people. There, right on the border of Russia, was a burgeoning democracy, a republic that was in talks to join the E.U., one who was moving toward joining NATO with its 2008 application to join the military alliance winning acceptance. To Putin, that must have looked like quite a threat. So after over a decade of independence, the Russian dictator, er, President, decided to actively interfere in Ukrainian politics.
Manafort's Last Boss Was Run Out Of Town With Pitchforks
In response to the bloodshed and Yanukovych's blatant power grab, some 20,000 protesters calling themselves Euromaidans advanced on Ukraine's parliament and ran him out of town. This guy, the one Manafort worked for, didn't have a lot of friends, but the few he did included his backer Vladimir Putin. When Yanukovych was literally run out of his country, the ousted former leader of Ukraine ran to mother Russia, telling the BBC he was so very "grateful that Mr. Putin ordered security officials to help him get out of Ukraine, and into Russia." Within hours of Yanukovych's arrival, Putin invaded the Ukraine. Russian President Putin deployed as many as 10,000 troops in eastern Ukraine, and fighting has now raged on for a full two years. Standard operating procedure for Russia is to lie about their incursions, but international news sources say he'd been preparing forces for the takeover for more than a year.
Even through this rough patch, Manafort continued to hold his own in Ukrainian governmental circles. Manafort worked hard to help rebuild what was left of Putin's Ukrainian insiders, rebranding them after the Yanexit, and making sure they remained in control of as much of the halls of Ukrainian power as possible. It's interesting to note, Manafort kept an advisory office in Kiev to work for Yanukovych’s ousted party until May of this year, months after he signed onto the Trump campaign.
The Spoils of War
Upon Yannie's removal from power, Euromaidan activists took over control of the President's home and office. That crazy tale of ostentatious luxury and decadent spending of the people's money is a sordid one all on its own. All we care about here, though, is Manafort, and what his role was. While preparing to run, Yanukovych and staff grabbed reams of papers and notebooks and computers, throwing them into the lake on his palatial estate. Unfortunately for Manafort, the protesters found the papers and, again, the drying of them in the former leader's sauna was front page news, outside of the United States anyway. Citizens salvaged what they could, and started to survey the ruins. As part of their research, the Ukrainian Parliament began an investigation into exactly what Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort did for Victor Yanukovych.
The President's office was easier to search. There they found handwritten ledgers that listed the $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort from Yanukovych’s political party between 2007 and 2012. While it isn’t clear from the records whether Manafort actually received the money, the documents, obtained by the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau, sketch out some of Manafort’s many ties in the region. Which brings us back to dear brave Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) of Illinois and his request that Trump do some EXTREME VETTING on his campaign manager - the one Ukrainians refer to as the "political technologist."
The Man Behind The Curtain
What difference does it make who advises Trump, and what their motivations are? Trump says he mostly listens to himself, so maybe it's not relevant. As Talking Points Memo reports, "Many believe Trump is indeed an admirer and would-be emulator of Putin's increasingly autocratic and illiberal rule." So, if the brain thingy between your ears works, and if you care about the future of the United States, our laws, our beliefs, our Constitutional and civil rights, you probably also find Trump's Russian interests, well, of interest. The news cycle of the last couple of years has been dominated with repeated terror attacks and missing planes, the ebola virus and mass shooters. It is possible that the little story of Putin taking over Crimea, or at least the details, might have slipped by without most of us even noticing. Of course, if you're running for President, and regularly talking about Russia, you'd think perhaps you would.
Taking Over The News Cycle
This isn't just about muscling in and taking power. Putin and Manafort didn't simply help to place one man in office as President of Ukraine who was sympathetic to Mother Russia; they planned a complete takeover. Investigators assert that the disbursements found were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin. They tried to take over the country's media source. Control the message, control the world.
In response, Kiev's largest internet and cable television provider Lanet suspended the broadcasts of three Russian television channels. The company said on its website that the television channels RTR-Planeta, Channel One Russia Worldwide Network, and NTV Mir "violate Ukrainian legislation, conducting propaganda, calling for war, sowing enmity and hatred." Chalk one up for the little guy.
What has also been largely muffled from main street news during this historically nutso election is the story that Trump brought disgraced former head of FOX News Roger Ailes into his fold this last week? Who can help Donald suck up all the air in the room better than Ailes? Who indeed.
Nothing To See Here Folks
Manafort blasted the Times after the report, denying he accepted any cash payments, even though there is obviously ample evidence and plenty of reporting that Manafort did indeed work for well known Putin puppet and Kremlin protege Yanukovych. Manafort was his campaign manager, and lobbied for his ideals. Whether the $12.7 was paid or not, whether it went to Manafort, or was spread out and used to pay off an entire campaign staff, he was still there, it was still his job to support the guy.
All we know is that now, while serving as Trump's campaign manager, the GOP candidate has made unusually positive comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin. And he's done so throughout the election cycle, even though Putin himself hasn't been in the headlines to naturally be discussed. Is Manafort's influence manifesting in these pro-Putin statements while at the podium? While the newest reports about Manafort do not answer those questions, they do demonstrate close links between a Putin ally and one of Trump’s top advisers.
Jackie Kucinich of CNN says, "We also know, and this I think is probably provable, that he (Manafort) was definitely involved in some cash flow, some cash transactions to try and set up businesses using some assets, buying and then exploiting some of the assets of the same region. He's got a lot of explaining to do."
Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles.
So The Guy Made a Few Bucks, Who Cares
The Times notes that the exact size of Manafort’s receipts from Yanukovych would have been public had he registered with a U.S. oversight agency, which is required of anyone seeking to lobby the U.S. government for foreign clients. Ah, those pesky governmental regulations. Always getting in the way of a good time. “It is unclear if Mr. Manafort’s activities necessitated registering,” the Times article states, since he had underlings register as lobbyists for him, and then "hire" him to do the work.
If Manafort's duties were limited to advising the former Ukrainian leader, he probably would not have had to register as a lobbyist in the United States. But apparently, at least in one glaring instance, while advising Yanukovych, he actively helped the Yanukovych administration draft a report defending its prosecution of his chief rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, in 2012. So that's lobbying. Very Putinesque. Very Trump.
Three Dimensional Checkers
Manafort’s work for Yanukovych is not new news, his job history is public knowledge, but the discovery of the $12.7 million figure is news. Big news. Manafort himself doesn't dispute his job record saying, “The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional.”
"We've have hired Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News (and a former investment banker) to the post of chief executive on the campaign, and hereby promote Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser and pollster for our campaign, to the position of campaign manager.
Breitbart News has been sympathetic to the Trump cause, and the idea that the campaign and the media outlet will now be inextricably linked seems less shocking and more wholly predictable. As FiveThirtyEight puts it, "a move of Berlusconian logic." Have you watched Fox News? Have you seen a Breitbart headline? Controlling the message with a steady stream of crazy is what they do. So of course, Donald would say, "You're hired."
PART THREE - THE DROWNING
"In North Carolina on Thursday night Mr. Trump was informed about an Associated Press article citing emails that showed Mr. Manafort’s firm had orchestrated a pro-Ukrainian Washington lobbying campaign without registering as a foreign agent. That was enough to prompt Mr. Trump to telephone Mr. Bannon and suggest it was time for Mr. Manafort to go, according to a Republican briefed on the exchange."
Fraternizing With The Enemy
Is it all over as Trump would have us believe? Are all of his financial ties to the region eliminated with the announcement that a man who had no salary walked away from his job? The idea that an "expert in the dark arts" - who slithered in Trump's ear like a worm in a Star Trek movie - would somehow pack a cardboard box with a plant and his rolodex and be gone, well that's absurd.
Trump's questionable financial links to Putin aside, all we know for sure is that on this side of the pond there definitely was a push for some reason at the RNC by the Trump campaign to take out the need to supply offensive weapons to Ukraine. And we know that the plan to pull desperately needed support was delivered by Trump officials as an ultimatum. We also know that the only issue in the GOP platform that the candidate's surrogates weighed in on was Ukraine, and how we needed to STOP helping them - the only country Russia is invading.
If we can't help fend off the continued Russian incursion, which has taken the lives of people who had not previously lived in a war zone, then what kind of ally are we? Trump has taken a side here. And he's taken a side with our ally's enemy. What exactly does Trump mean to do with all our carefully crafted treaties and peace resolutions around the world? Does he plan to renegotiate everything, and bully everyone into taking less than we had promised to deliver? Less than defend them against an actual invasion? For a man so afraid of illegal aliens, he's sure willing to turn a blind eye when a country no bigger than a couple of U.S. states is grabbed, taken, eminently domained.
Meanwhile, Back In The Ukraine
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin escalated support to separatists in eastern Ukraine that resided in areas with a majority of ethnic Russians. Ukrainian reserve officers, who had ties to the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, commanded the rebels in attacks.
“Usually there’s two days out of every week when no one gets hit (shot), then it kicks off again,” said a Ukrainian section commander leading the resistance against Russian troops. “But there hasn’t been a single day since we arrived when we haven’t been shot at, shelled, or mortared.” Dug into a warren of trenches, machine-gun nests, and bombed out houses on the outskirts of Avdiivka, an industrial town just north of the city of Donetsk, this sergeant's 20 man section and the Russian backed separatists 300 yards to the east are locked in a violent attritional battle in what officials in Kiev, Moscow, and Western capitals still insist is a “ceasefire.” ~ Telegraph, UK, May 3,2016
"The strain on their faces and voices is palpable, as is a weary frustration at fighting a war that they say has been forgotten both at home and abroad," reports Roland Oliphant with The Telegraph. “Even when we go home, no one wants to talk about it. They’re sick of it. The world’s sick of it,” he said, to murmurs of agreement from his men. “The Russians did their pre-planned move to distract attention in Syria [while invading the Crimean region of Ukraine], and the world bought it.” More than 10,000 lives have been lost as Putin eyes the rest of the country greedily. No neighbors of his are going to join NATO. Not on his watch. And if the Republican platform is followed, help is not on the way. Especially since Trump has ratcheted the rhetoric up a notch by calling for the disbanding of NATO, saying it's outdated.
“They have to either rejigger it or come up with something new. Many countries are not paying their fair share. That means we are protecting them, giving them military protection. They’re ripping off the United States. And you know what we do? Nothing. Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.”
“We’re not going to give up an inch of Ukraine. The people over there (Russia), or their leaders, want their Russia-dependent ‘autonomy. I’m here because if I wasn’t they’d send some 18 year old kid who doesn’t know anything, and he’d end up dead straight away,” added the Ukrainian sergeant, as afternoon turned to evening and the machine gun and mortar fire in no man’s land intensifies. “That’s my motivation.”
What would you do if you were invaded, your town, your county? Would you stand your ground? Would you pray for help? While Ukrainian forces have achieved some victories early in the conflict, a profusion of Russian-supplied advanced weapons, including T-64 and T-72 battle tanks prove Ukraine and their weaponry no match for their giant neighbor's land grab. Russia's use of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles known as MANPADS, and their Strela-10 armored vehicle with its own surface-to-air-missiles provide heavy firepower. The Free Beacon reports that it was the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014 over the Crimea region of Ukraine - killing nearly 300 people - that has successfully deterred the Ukrainian military from using its air power and has further hampered its forces.
The More You Know
"Putin has instituted several measures to prevent the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine from inciting a backlash at home, reports the Interpreter, a daily online journal that translates Russian media and reports on Russian affairs. "The troops used in Crimea are often young enlistees from disparate regions of Russia, and they are treated at clinics scattered across the country. Groups and news outlets that attempt to report the deaths of Russian soldiers are harassed or attacked by authorities and unknown assailants." BBC reports that in May of 2015, Putin signed a measure that prohibits the publishing of information about the deaths of Russian forces in peacetime, an attempt to further conceal details about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. The Interpreter report estimates that about 600 Russians have also died fighting to take over Ukraine, while approximately 800 are missing. Despite Ukraine's Poroshenko's repeated requests for weapons from U.S. forces to help defeat Putin's military and his Russian backed separatists within the Ukraine, Trump says if he's President, it's a big "Nyet."
What Good Could We Do?
How strong is the United States military? Trump has repeated it is in shambles, a mess, a horrible disgrace. In the reality the rest of us live in, Miltary statistics say that America's military might is 1,000 times larger than the next strongest power. 1000 times. Maybe more. Maybe that explains why Putin not only doesn't want us involved in his little shopping trip across the border, but maybe he'd actually like to get a piece of our action. No other military or combination of militaries could even begin to inflict the kind of damage that the United States military can in a conventional war.
Trump's recent statements that NATO allies shouldn't get support unless they've paid up is fascinating. Turning the world's most powerful military into mercenaries for hire sounds like a solid business plan. Would he hire them out to Russia too? Would it be USA military to the highest bidder regardless of our ideals? Is that what Putin wanted all along? Not our friendship, but control over our armed forces? Will the next Commander-in-Chief give Putin the keys to our humvees in exchange for forgiving old debts?
With Friends Like These
House Member Kinzinger explains, "The GOP platform was changed at the convention. That [removing Ukrainian support and Russian sanctions from the GOP platform] wasn't anything anybody was talking about, it just happened," adding, "There’s been this affection in the campaign for Russia and Vladimir Putin, and frankly it's unexplainable.”
Kinzinger said the campaign’s stance on Russia “violates” what he believes in as a Republican and also echoed past statements that he doesn’t see how he will get himself to vote for Trump. The concern is that Trump decided to hire a guy who's represented bad people in the past, and give him the title of campaign manager. According to Chris Cuomo, Manafort actually does have "a loose nickname of being the master of the dark arts when it comes to politics."
CNN - Jake Tapper with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) - Illinois 8/14/16
One Very Special Former Russian Speaks Out
Forty-two years ago, Mikhail Baryshnikov escaped from Russia and defected to the United States, and he has chosen to speak out on this election and the rise of Donald Trump to political power. Hundreds of thousands like Mikhail have fled their countries to get away from the types of practices Putin engages in, and Trump embraces. "For the first time since I arrived in the U.S., I'm hearing rhetoric that reminds me of my youth."
As Foreign Policy Magazine puts it, “At a minimum, 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. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump and a non-tacit alliance between the two men with the DNC WikiLeaks hack n’ dump as the real smoking gun."
We leave you with this indepth reporting from TPM.
Here's where it gets more interesting. This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump's larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM's Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there's a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump's backing but because he simply didn't care. With one big exception: Trump's team mobilized the nominee's traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it's worth (and it's not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans' call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue - in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform - speaks volumes.