Donald Trump takes office next week under a cloud – made in Moscow.
His strident denials that Russian hacking of Democratic emails had anything to do with his election were demolished by the unanimous conclusion of investigations by 17 American intelligence agencies.
Their report fueled new concerns over Trump’s campaign statements that he trusted Russian President Vladimir Putin more than the president of the United States and the contacts between his campaign and the Russians.
David Corn, writing in Mother Jones, said a former Western intelligence officer familiar with Russian operations told him “the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump.” More recently, “there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.”
Corn doesn’t provide many details or identify his source, but Trump had several people in his campaign with Russian ties, including one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page and political consultant Roger Stone.
Trump saw in Putin a partner in his campaign to denigrate Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. He spoke often about repairing relations with Russia and avoided criticizing Putin.
The Kremlin considered Clinton “a tough and uncompromising adversary,” according to Russian journalists, while Trump was seen as malleable. He was susceptible to flattery, had business ties to Russia and kept repeating – and exaggerating – compliments Putin paid him. He came to be known as Putin’s poodle.
Putin, who mourns the collapse of the Soviet Union, wants to Make Russia Great Again and restore its superpower status. He sees in Trump an inexperienced and unprepared American leader who can help make that possible by not challenging him the way Clinton would.
Trump and Putin’s desire to be rid of Obama and defeat Clinton was enthusiastically shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The prime minister had feuded with Obama since Day One, notably over the American president’s focus on settlements and launching serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who identified with the Republicans, saw in Trump a candidate who didn’t give a hoot about peace talks, settlement construction or the Palestinians.
Trump also had the backing of Netanyahu’s billionaire benefactor, Sheldon Adelson, and had close Orthodox Jewish advisers.
Netanyahu had already been courting Putin. His calls and visits to Moscow were a way of poking a finger in Obama’s eye. He even talked about a realignment of alliances but that was meaningless. Who else would give Israel over $3 billion a year with no strings? Even with strings? Putin wants to replace the United States as the dominant foreign power in the region. Netanyahu may like playing the Russians against the Americans, but it won’t work. Right now he’s apoplectic because Obama did not veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning his settlements policy. That was a one-off; Obama had vetoed every other resolution Israel opposed – all of which, by the way, Putin voted for, including the latest.
And speaking of UN votes, Netanyahu ordered the Israeli UN delegation to skip a vote calling for gathering evidence of war crimes by the Assad regime in Syria. You’d think Israel, of all countries, would want to see genocide prosecuted, especially when it is going on right next door, but after a call from Putin Netanyahu took a walk.
Good relations with Russia are important for Israel, with more than a million Russian immigrants. More critically, Putin’s army is next door in Syria slaughtering tens of thousands, and Israel wants to make sure that conflict does not spill across its borders. All three countries may have a common enemy in Islamic State, but that doesn’t change the fact that Israel’s greatest threats – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – are Russian allies.
The troika of leaders each had something the others wanted and understood the principle of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Putin was helping Trump by hacking into the Democrats and Clinton and distributing the pilfered documents through Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which has a long history of publishing purloined American diplomatic cables.
That had made him a mortal enemy of the American Right – Trump once wanted him to face a “death penalty” – until his Russian-provided trove was targeting Clinton.
Fox News’s Sean Hannity, the classic useful idiot, interviewed Assange in London last week, and returned declaring the WikiLeaker truthfully told him the Russians were not involved in the hacking, despite the evidence gathered by the US intelligence community.
What Assange really said was he his source was not a “state player.” He’s been consistently evasive about his informants and this semi-denial suited Trump, who – intentionally or stupidly – chose to believe him over the CIA, DIA, NSC and the rest of the alphabet soup of spooks.
The intelligence agencies findings that the hacking had been an intentional effort to swing the election to Trump – which it clearly was – was seen by Trump as an attempt to delegitimize his election. His victory will forever be in doubt for millions of Americans. Not because he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes but because of the heavy Russian thumbs on the scales. It will be a stain on American democracy.
The Russian cyber attack on the American election left Trump’s election victory and his presidency “tainted beyond redemption,” wrote New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.
It was a 21st century version of Richard Nixon’s Watergate break-in. Except this time instead of a domestic felony with the perps going to the slammer, it is an act of war by a foreign power.