President Donald Trump has attempted to distance himself from allegations of collusion by asserting that he has no business interests in Russia. That’s not for lack of trying; Trump’s efforts to establish a hotel in Moscow go back at least to 1987, when, according to his book The Art of the Deal, he discussed the possibility with the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin. But the questions regarding the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russian government go beyond whether Trump has business in Russia. It is just as, if not more, important to understand the many ways that Russia has business in Donald Trump.
One of the core deliverables Russia hoped to get from supporting Trump was sanctions relief. While the Trump administration is required by law to put in place the sanctions recently passed by Congress (sanctions Trump strenuously objected to), the administration has wide leeway in the implementation. Right now, all signs point to a continued effort by the administration to do everything possible to block, delay and water down the sanctions ahead of the January 29 deadline – advancing a core interest of Vladimir Putin and the oligarch class that fuels his power.
Throughout the Russia investigation, the “Steele Dossier” has continued to command attention. The transcript of Carter Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on November 2, 2017 has refocused that attention where it belongs: on the substance of the report. Since BuzzFeed published the Steele Dossier in January 2017, subsequent reporting has confirmed or substantiated many of Steele’s claims.
Ryan Lizza recently had an important piece about the Trump administration’s “Boil the Frog” strategy regarding the Russia investigation: a preference that information be released slowly and confusingly rather than have it all come out at once, in order to “soften the blow.” One advantage of this slow drip of revelations is that it makes it easier for the Trump administration to shift the goal posts for the investigations. Lizza explains the shifting goal post tactic with regard to contacts with Wikileaks:
Today, Global Witness, a London-based non-profit focused on exposing corruption, released a report finding that Donald Trump made millions of dollars from a deal licensing his name to a development in Panama that was used to launder drug money from drug cartels. While Trump may not have deliberately sought to benefit from this criminal activity, Global Witness finds that he “seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this.” The report also finds that some of the Trump Ocean Club investors were allegedly linked to the Russian Mafia, and it seems as though Trump’s “willful blindness” may have landed him in bed with illicit Russian money.
Yesterday, The Atlantic reported on previously unknown conversations between Donald Trump Jr. and Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign. This is the fourth known case of someone close to the campaign being in contact with the group that Trump’s own CIA director, Mike Pompeo described saying: “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mueller’s investigative team is looking into a situation where former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was to be paid $15 million for essentially kidnapping a Turkish national from the United States and extraditing him to Turkey. Vice President Pence has tried to maintain a conspicuous ignorance when it comes to the misdeeds of one of the longest-serving campaign aides. But this bonkers Turkey scheme allegedly occurred in mid-December, well into the Trump presidential transition led by Pence. And shortly thereafter, Flynn told the transition that he was under FBI investigation for secretly working as a foreign agent for Turkey.
Last week brought news about criminal charges against key campaign officials with concerning ties to Russia – Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – the Paradise Papers and other recent revelations have shown more questionable ties to Russia among administration officials as well.