Friday, February 17, 2017

Flynn and the Trump-Russia scandal

Sen. Patty Murray wrote on her Facebook page 02/15/2017 about the departure of National Security Adivser Michael Flynn from the Trump Family Business Administration over his :

To say that this is deeply concerning would be an understatement, and people deserve answers. I'm glad Michael Flynn is now out of the White House and away from influencing our national security, but this should not be the end of the story. So I'm calling for an immediate and independent investigation to get to the bottom of President Trump's communication with Russia and Vladimir Putin, both during the campaign and after the election. Democrats and Republicans may disagree on a lot of things, but when it comes to our national security or the integrity of our elections, everyone should put their country over protecting their Party's leader.

There are a lot of factors at play in this drama, which in some ways may be the first major exposure of the extent of the corruption that seems to be the basic operating model of the Trump Family Business Administration. Because I won't be surprised at all if Trump's attitude toward Russia turns out to be based on some business deal in which his family business expects to profit. ExxonMobil's $500 billion deal with Russia that was suspended by the sanctions on Russia over Ukraine is a big one to watch in this context.

There definitely needs to be a serious investigation of the Trump-Russia connections, as Bernie Sanders describes here, Bernie Explains Questions around Trump's Ties to Russia 02/15/2017:

Paul Pillar lays out the seriousness of this already-major political scandal, Shaking the Foundations of Loyalty The National Interest 02/15/2017:

What is intriguing and entertaining in fiction constitutes a political and even constitutional crisis if it arises in reality. Given what we, the public, know so far, such a crisis is at hand now involving Russia and the Trump administration and Trump entourage. A string of revelations can be explained away individually, but collectively they give rise to profound and legitimate doubt about whose interests are being served by those in power.

The earliest press reports, back during the election campaign, involved relationships between senior members of the Trump campaign and Russia. Then there were the intelligence-based findings about a comprehensive Russian effort to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, partly with the objective of tilting the election toward Trump. There were reports from a retired British intelligence officer about Trump-related shenanigans in Russia, reports that seemed to many eyes to be too deliciously salacious to be true, but the officer has a sound reputation and subsequently some of the details of his reports have been corroborated. Add to that the behavior of the new president himself, who does not hesitate to insult longstanding allies and to attack targets ranging from Broadway casts to an American department store company, but who has an oddly soft touch when it comes to Vladimir Putin and his regime in Russia—even as that regime engages in behavior such as violation of an arms control treaty that is one of the foundations of European security. Trump’s national security adviser takes a fall for lying about pre-inauguration dealings with Russia about sanctions. Couple that with the uncharacteristic non-response by the Putin regime to the most recently imposed sanctions. And now the earliest reports come back in more glaring form with further press reporting that aides to Trump were dealing before the election not just with Russia but with Russian intelligence officials.

Eli Lake defends the Trump crew over the Flynn fiasco in The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn Bloomberg View 02/14/2017. He runs with the Republican line is that the real issue is the leaks about Flynn, not Flynn's dubious dealings with the Russian government.

He even says, "It's not even clear that Flynn lied." He considers Flynn's claim in his resignation letter that he inadvertently gave wrong information in his debriefings with Trump's team to be credible.

A better explanation here is that Flynn was just thrown under the bus. His tenure as national security adviser, the briefest in U.S. history, was rocky from the start. When Flynn was attacked in the media for his ties to Russia, he was not allowed by the White House to defend himself. Over the weekend, he was instructed not to speak to the press when he was in the fight for his political life. His staff was not even allowed to review the transcripts of his call to the Russian ambassador.

There is another component to this story as well -- as Trump himself just tweeted. It's very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress.

Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.

In the past it was considered scandalous for senior U.S. officials to even request the identities of U.S. officials incidentally monitored by the government (normally they are redacted from intelligence reports). John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was derailed in 2006 after the NSA confirmed he had made 10 such requests when he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control in George W. Bush's first term. The fact that the intercepts of Flynn's conversations with Kislyak appear to have been widely distributed inside the government is a red flag.
This is shameless echoing of the Trump Family Business Administration's position, in which the leaks about Flynn's misconduct are the only real problem. It's a ridiculous justification.

But it is important to keep in that there aren't some dubious motives at play on the side of the Good Guys, too.

Congressman Adam Schiff, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on MSNBC talking about the Trump-Russia scandal, The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 2/14/2017 from the interview in the video.

MADDOW: Let me ask your response to this new reporting from the “New York Times.” I don`t know if you had a chance to review it. The headline is “Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence”. “The New York Times” citing multiple American sources saying that phone records and intercepted calls show members of Trump`s presidential campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign and the year before the election.

I just wanted to get your response to that.

SCHIFF: Well, this is really, I think, the heart of the investigation and that is was there some form of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin? The Kremlin was engaged in illegal activities in the United States designed to influence the outcome of the election. Obviously, their intent was to help Donald Trump and hurt Secretary Clinton, and were Trump campaign surrogates or aides or others affirmatively working with the Russians towards that illegal object?

That`s really one of the central and most important allegations to be investigated. And we have agreement on a bipartisan basis to do that investigation, but there are a lot of big questions about whether we can get that done, and one of them, frankly, is personified by one of the photos you just showed and this is Director Comey, because we`re going to need his cooperation if we`re going to do this investigation.
This makes total sense. And he didn't go beyond the information publicly available in that comment.

Here is the video of the interview, Rep. Adam Schiff: Need James Comey's Cooperation To Investigate Russia Ties:

But just after 5:15 in the video, Schiff says:

Well, this is really the, I think, the heart of the investigation. And that is, was there some form of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin?

And the final point I want to make and you began your program with this tonight, and I`m so glad you did focusing on Putin`s, you know, attempt to discredit and eliminate his political rival or potential political rival, what the stakes are here because, you know, people ask and Sean Spicer wants to suggest what`s the big deal about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador? Isn`t that sort of ordinary course of events?

The big deal is this. We`re in a global struggle with Russia right now. They are trying to propagate their authoritarian model around the world. [They've ruined democracy, eliminated most democratic institutions in Russia. They're trying to dismantle European institutions in Europe. Liberal democracy is under assault and we are still the last, best hope of democracy around the world. And in that struggle, we cannot afford to be undermined at the very highest levels of the White House. And that's why this is so important.]
(The bracketed sentences are on the video but are missing from the online transcript.)

That framing of US-Russia relations could have been lifted verbatim from innumerable examples from the Cold War. And, at least as much as its antecedents, it's a grandiose, unrealistic, and dogmatic conception. No, the United States' vital interests are not at stake in a competition with Russia over the form of government in Zambia or Grenada. The US and Russia have common interests in some areas, competing interests in others. The US needs to handle those differences realistically, without just giving away concessions so that, for instance, ExxonMobil and the Trump family can increase their fortunes at the expense of US national interests. And without taking careless and reckless actions. It serious enough that we've extended NATO membership and protections to the Baltic states without reorganizing the US military position in Europe to credibly be able to support those guarantees. Treating that commitment is an almost casual way creates a vulnerability that the Russians can easily exploit now.

The Democrats have long since tried to out-hawk the Republicans in their rhetoric. But we need a realistic and practical policy toward Russia in particular, not one based on sweeping, dogmatic and largely empty ideological talk.

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