Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Jill Stein and the flap over her Russia connections

Politico has a piece about how Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein is still getting criticism from various sources, mostly establishment Democrats, about her effect on the outcome of last year's election. And, of course, about the Russia-Russia-Russia connection. (Ben Schreckinger, Jill Stein Isn’t Sorry 06/20/2017)

She was also at Vladimir Putin's table at the RT gala in Russia in 2015 along with now-resigned National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

It's not until the seventh paragraph of the story that we read that she doesn't sound like a person who has anything to hide:

Stein isn’t sorry about any of it. She says she’d welcome the opportunity to testify before Congress and dismisses the idea that she was a spoiler or that her campaign was co-opted as a tool of Russian influence as Democrats’ “pathetic excuses” for losing the election.

Unlike Flynn — whose initially undisclosed $45,000 RT payout landed him in hot water with congressional investigators — Stein has said she was not offered any speaking fee and that she declined the Russian network’s offer to cover her travel. She tells POLITICO that she was accompanied by a single aide and that her presidential campaign paid for the travel, which included a stop in Paris. The campaign’s Federal Election Commission reports from that period show modest disbursements to multiple airlines, including Air France, and a travel agency.

Stein says that to her knowledge, neither she, her campaign nor the Green Party have taken money from Russian entities: “I am certainly not aware of any ties whatsoever, financial or otherwise, to the Russian government.”
It sounds like she was more discrete about the financing of her presence at the RT gala than Flynn was. Flynn was a retired general who was required to report any payments like the one he received for that event.

I don't encourage RT-phobia. It isn't illegal to appear on RT. And someone like Chris Hedges (who Politico mentions) is appearing on RT and delivering his own perspective, it probably is the case that RT, which is a Russian statement media organization now routinely described in the American press as Russia's propaganda channel, thinks they get some advantage from his appearing, Chris could also argue that if RT is "using" him, he is also "using" them. And it's not illegal for an American to appear on RT. Or to be a paid contributor to RT. Where Flynn messed up in that regard was not properly disclosing the payment he received as required by the regulations to which he was subject as a retired officer.

It's also legal for Americans to travel to Russia and to do business with Russian companies, insofar as they aren't covered by sanctions or other legislation.

Stein alluded in the quote I gave to her being willing to testify before Congress about her involvement with RT. An earlier paragraph reported:

“We're certainly interested in any efforts the Russians made to influence our election,” says California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in the election. “There have been public reports, I think, that Jill Stein was also in Russia attending the RT function, so we’re going to need to look at any efforts the Russians made through whatever means to influence our elections."
Here, I worry that this could shade over into potential political intimidation. But Stein herself says she would be happy to testify.

It's also worth remembering that it's also perfectly legal and intellectually legitimate to agree with something a foreign government is saying. The fact that a particular position or perspective may be agreeable to another country's leadership at a given moment is not in itself a token that someone is serving a foreign government if they agree with them on some political point. Political ideas don't stay confined in a single country any more than scientific or religious ones. Neither Democrats or Republicans feel much constrained in expressing support for the ideas and programs of various foreign parties. The Republicans in 2015 invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give an address to a joint session of Congress even without President Obama's approval and in spite of the fact that Netanyahu was trying to generate opposition to the nuclear agreement the Administration had been working on with Iran.

I hesitate to make comparisons or analogies between the Cold War (or Cold War 1.0?) and today's situation. Because Cold War dogma in the United was often simplistic and unrealistic, even with (perhaps especially with) direct policymakers. But in this context, it's helpful to recall that with the Soviet-line Communist Parties, including the always-small US Communist Party, were more-or-less explicit in most phases of their existence that they saw the Soviet Union as a model to be emulated. But this was not illegal, either. Some Communists were involved in actual espionage, although after the Second World War the Soviets tended to rely on people persuaded by other means than ideology in recruiting people to do actual spying.

In the case of Jill Stein and her Greens, they are not holding up Putinism as a political model:

Stein has also hit back at “fake news” claiming she has praised Putin. For the record, Stein says, “Putin is an authoritarian and has a very troubled, disturbing record.” But, she adds, “It’s important to look at where Putin comes from. … It was Larry Summers and the guys from Harvard who basically privatized the public domain [in post-Soviet Russia] and created the oligarchs” (the culpability of American economic advice for the collapse of the Russian economy in the 1990s remains hotly debated).
The suspicions and official findings of the FBI, CIA and NSA about Russian interference in the 2016 election also don't have to do with ideology as such. The actions at issue involve cyber intrusions into American systems and specific efforts to influence the outcome of a particular Presidential elections. There are laws governing foreign money from US elections. And one of the things that needs to be clarified is just what kind of violation of laws there may have been and what kinds of collusion in illegal acts may have been occurred. Outside of taking money illegally or strong evidence of direct involvement by people from the Trump campaign with illegal Russian actions, finding criminal collusion will be a big stretch. Although active collusion with the Russians could be embarrassing and possibly politically damaging to Trump and the Republicans without rising to the level of crimes that could be successfully prosecuted.

There are also big questions about dubious and/or illegal dealings with Russian companies and governmental entities that could subject members of the Trump Family Business Administration to pressure from the Russian government.

And the Administration has created some very specific legal problems for itself by trying to block official investigations.

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