The Russian investigation: Will it now go away?

The question is not if, but how, Russia is interfering with Western Elections.

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WASHINGTON, May 12, 2017 – It has taken a little while for President Trump to admit that the real reason for firing FBI Director James Comey was to bring the investigation of his campaign’s ties with Russia, and Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, to a halt.

After initially trying to place responsibility for the firing on Comey’s role in the Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy and on a memo from the assistant attorney general, and sending Mike Pence, Sean Spicer and others out to promote this false story, he admitted that Comey had to go because of “this Russia thing.”  Speaking with NBC News, President Trump said:

“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

If President Trump thought that the Russia investigation could be stopped by firing Mr. Comey, he was seriously mistaken. However, if Mr. Trump is innocent of any wrongdoing in this matter, as he well may be, his wisest course would have been to cooperate with a thorough investigation which would exonerate him and his campaign.



Breaking up with Vladimir Putin and Russia


Only a guilty person would want to stifle a probe that would prove his innocence, or so it seems to many people. Or it may be simply, knowing there was not story there, the best way to end the media cycle was to remove Comey, who seems to relish in keeping intrigue churning.

Some Republicans are as dubious about the Comey firing as are Democrats  The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen Richard Burr (R-NC) said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.  I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee.”

Ironically, just after firing Comey, Trump met in the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislayek.  The meeting, reportedly at the request of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was meant to be secret.  No American press, or photographers, were permitted.  The White House was embarrassed when a picture of Trump, Lavrov and Kisliyak laughing with one another was immediately released by the Russians and appeared on front pages around the world.

Donald Trump, as we know, has respect for Vladimir Putin.  He has called him a “great leader,” and has said that he was far superior to our own former president. The fact that Putin runs a brutal, authoritarian regime, seems alright with Trump, as does his close alliance with Syria and Iran, his invasion of Ukraine, and his interference in democratic elections throughout Europe, most recently his embrace and financing of Marine Le Pen in France.

Putin’s goal in trying to sway Western elections is clear: to promote candidates who oppose NATO and the EU. Russia recently outlawed the U.S.-based religious denomination Jehovah’s Witnesses.  When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Moscow, she challenged this attack on religious freedom.

Donald  Trump has not said a word about it. What is now under investigation is exactly how Russia interfered in our own election. Given the partisan rancor, there is little doubt that the President wants it to end.


Trump and Putin: Odd political bedfellow


Putin’s goal in trying to sway Western elections is clear: to promote candidates who oppose NATO and the EU. Russia recently outlawed the U.S. based religious denomination Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Moscow, she challenged this attack on religious freedom.

What is now under investigation is exactly how Russia interfered in our own election.

The Trump campaign’s connections to Moscow have not been defined or proven. Beyond Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, who not only took money from Moscow, which he did not reveal but had several conversations with the Russian ambassador in which they discussed American sanctions against Russia, there is just smoke, but no real fire.

Trump did fire Flynn when it became known that he lied to Vice President Pence about these talks. Additionally, he was paid $45,000 for giving a speech in December 2015 in Moscow.  On the same trip, he sat next to President Putin at an RT dinner.

Attorney General Sessions said during his Senate confirmation hearings that he did not have any contact with Russian officials while he was actively campaigning for Mr. Trump, when in fact, he met with the Russian ambassador twice.

 

The strange connections between the Trump campaign and Russia are many, and they raise many questions. From Paul Manafort to Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, there are hints of contacts with Russian intelligence during the campaign.

Or consider Roger Stone, an informal but close Trump adviser.  Last summer, he exchanged messages with Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter account widely believed to be a front for Russian intelligence operatives who were involved in hacking the Democratic  National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  During the campaign, Stone seemed to know in advance that Wikileaks would release e-mails of John Podesta, the Clinton campaign manager.

During the campaign, Stone seemed to know in advance that Wikileaks would release e-mails of John Podesta, the Clinton campaign manager.

What Donald Trump’s business ties to Russia may be difficult to tell, particularly since he will not release his tax returns.  We do know that in 2008, Donald Trump, Jr. told a real estate conference that, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York,” according to eTurBoNews, a travel industry news site.

Author James Dodson said that another son, Eric Trump, who has since denied making the statement, said that in 2013 that Russians have financed Trump golf courses:

“Well, we don’t rely on American banks.  We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

The steps, sometimes two forward, one back, that led to the firing of Jim Comey has many rungs.  It did not come about because Donald Trump did not like his performance as FBI chief, but because he became involved in the investigation of the Trump campaign and possible collusion with Moscow.

A few weeks before the election, Trump attacked the FBI for “covering up to protect her (Hillary Clinton).” Little more than a week later, he praised Comey, telling his supporters that it “took a lot of guts” for him “to do the right thing.”

After his election victory, Trump said that he admired Comey “a lot,” and two days after his interrogation he hugged Comey at a reception, declaring that the FBI director was “more famous than me.”

What changed Trump’s mind, it seems, was that Comey was requesting more resources for his widening investigation into growing evidence of contacts and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. If Donald Trump thinks that he will find widespread support among conservatives for his efforts to stifle the investigation of Russia and his campaign, he may be seriously mistaken.

 

Columnist Don Lambro of The Washington Times accused Trump of:

“…not just meddling, but attempting to quash, or at least undermine the FBI’s expanding probe.  For some time, Mr. Trump and administration officials have been trying to pressure the FBI to refocus its investigative efforts on the endless stream of leaks to the news media that have embarrassed the president.  But Mr. Comey has resisted such pressure, described as ‘very aggressive’, making it clear that questions about Russian meddling in the U.S. election,  and coziness with Trump associates, was a much higher priority.”

Lambro points out that,

“Mr. Trump has had a grudging, often dismissive attitude toward the entire Russian scandal that has dominated his presidency.  When it was discovered that Mr.  Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had lied about his conversations and other contacts with the Russian ambassador, he waited 18 days to fire him. But during that time, it was reported that Mr. Flynn sat in on highly classified White House strategy sessions, including meetings and phone calls with foreign leaders, and in one case, a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

President Trump has called the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election and possible collusion on the part of Trump aides, if not the president himself, “fake news” and a “witch hunt.”

If he is right, the only way to prove it is through an independent investigation.  Now, as a result of his firing Comey, we are likely, eventually, to find the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.