Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It’s About The Russians, Stupid

Published in HuffPost
August 9, 2017 - 03:16 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, Black Butte Ranch, Oregon (www.richweissman.com)

​Our heads are spinning. Each day something new from the Trump administration and the GOP. The ACA is going to be replaced, no wait, repealed, no wait, replaced, no wait, there aren’t enough votes for any change. Tax cuts are in, no wait, they’re out, no wait, they’re in, no wait, we’ll deal with it later. The Mexican wall is on, no it’s downsized, no it’s back bigger than ever and Mexico is paying for it, no wait, they’re not. And of course, there are the immigration restrictions from Muslim countries, the rebuke of the Paris Accords, prohibiting trans people in the military, building the pipeline, privatizing public education through school vouchers, and all the other issues of the day. Like a roller-coaster ride where we’re not strapped in, hanging on for dear life. And all the tweeting. Everything from attacking celebrities, his own cabinet, media people and media outlets, and inane, head-scratching covfefe-like nonsense.

And the firings. A parade of “your hired”, no wait, “your fired”. Quite the revolving door. The White House has become the most powerful temp agency in the world.

There is so much noise, so much attention on things that make no sense and simply add to the cacophony. What’s with all of this presidential vomit spewing out from the White House each day?  What is the point of it?

It’s so simple. This is all just one big distraction from the real story, the only newsworthy story – it’s about the Russians, stupid. It’s the only focus we should have at the moment. It’s the only game worth watching.

So, let’s reduce it to its core elements, of which, I think, there are three distinct parts …

First, the Russians were clearly involved in obtaining the “dirt” on Hillary and the DNC, and getting the stories out there, some true, most false. The Russian objective would have been to tarnish her and the DNC’s reputations without sufficient time for a real analysis or understanding of the source. The investigation has confirmed the role of the Russians and the Trump family in this operation to discredit the Hillary campaign. The investigation now focuses on understanding the extent to which Trump and his people were actively involved in the plot to discredit Hillary by subversive Russian activity.

Second, there may have been hacking into the election systems, both the voter base and election vote-counting mechanisms. The Russian objective would have been to ensure a Trump win in targeted areas where he needed the electoral college counts, particularly in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. If this can be found to have happened, then the election itself was, in Trumpian vocabulary, “rigged”. The investigation will now need to determine the degree to which Trump and his campaign were actively involved in changing and tampering with voter registration and counts through Russian hacking.   

Third, there may have been money laundering to enrich the Trump family from the Russians through real estate deals by Russian proxies purchasing Trump (and Kushner) properties, and through bank loan forgiveness from Russian banks who had loaned to the Trump family businesses. The objective would have been to transfer money from the Russians to the Trump family in ways that would not be easily traced. At the moment, the investigation is publicly focused on this component, with the establishment of the grand jury for this specific purpose.

In the end, we will learn about each of these components, who specifically was involved, how each component may relate to one another, and how they might demonstrate a pattern of collusion at worst, cover-up at best. If these are true, then the Russians would have promised the Trumps and his team that they would bring down Hillary, ensure the necessary electoral college numbers, and enrich the Trump (and Kushner) family. Such a scenario would truly lead to a Constitutional crisis of mindboggling proportion.

Of course, the big question is: what would the Russians gain from this three-prong strategy? Why would they engage in these activities? They do enjoy creating chaos, particularly within the world’s most powerful nation. But, I think there’s a lot more that they would they expect from a U.S. President who is beholden to them for the election and for lining his pockets?

Here’s what I think …                                                                

First, the Russians want the sanctions imposed through the Magnitsky Act that have frozen the billions of dollars in U.S. assets to be removed. Putin personally would gain significantly as many of these assets represent his personal wealth. Removing sanctions would be a clear financial benefit to the Russians and to Putin in particular. 

Second, the Russians want to ensure that they have a U.S. President who is soft on Russian expansionism (e.g. the Crimea and Ukraine). The Russians’ desire to expand their borders is clear, and to have the U.S. quiet on these moves would help give the Russians a green-light for further expansion goals. 

Third, the Russians want to see a weak NATO. This organization has stood as a unified threat to the Russian pursuit of anti-democracy hegemony. Since NATO’s inception, every U.S. President of both parties have been strong proponents of NATO and its mission. The Russians want a U.S. President who is at odds with U.S. European allies and who diminishes the authority of NATO, promising an “America First” platform. This would be a game-changer for Russian dreams of domination. 

What is so fascinating is that Trump is already working to try to meet these three Russian demands. And he is willing to fight with members of his own party in order to deliver to the Russians in a way that no other U.S. President has in the past.

Connecting these dots is not hard. It’s not a wacko conspiracy theory, and the current investigation is unveiling evidence. Although we need to fight Trump on every one of his horrific moves on healthcare, tax relief for the wealthy, transgender rights, and all the other issue-of-the-day positions Trump proposes, we must understand that at the center of it all is the critical issue upon which we must focus — the Russian connection with Trump, his family and team. Over the next weeks and months, this focus must be front and center as the single most dangerous and explosive crisis of our times.