The Russian Job: The Plot Thickens

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

An avalanche of news about the connection of key Trump political operatives to Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation rolled down ominously on the West Wing on Wednesday.

The evidence for collusion between Trump figures and the Russian Federation to gain the White House for Trump is still mostly circumstantial, but some of it is beginning to cross over into being direct.

Paul Manafort was chairman of the Trump presidential campaign from March until late August of 2016, including during the Republican National Convention. He served much longer than did Steve Bannon, the Breitbart fake news purveyor, who succeeded him.

During the Republican National Convention, Manafort orchestrated the removal from the Republican Party platform of a pledge to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine with which to oppose Russian incursions into the east of that country. Obviously, removal of that plank was something Russia wanted very badly, and Manafort obliged them. Why?

Manafort is a third-generation Italian-American and an attorney and Republican Party fixture who worked on the Ford, Bush Sr., and Dole campaigns. For Reagan he had served as Associate Director of the Presidential Personnel Office at the White House.

In Washington, knowing rich and powerful people personally is worth gold and offers the hail fellow well met the opportunity for enormous riches as a lobbyist.

By 2006, the intrepid reporters Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day Associated Press reported, Manafort was hired for $10 million as a lobbyist by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to lobby for him and for Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation. The arrangement would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

As the post-Soviet political system evolved in Russia a group of billionaires or oligarchs rose from the ashes of socialism. As Putin gradually established his power from 2000, he was visibly uncomfortable with the pluralism of political power that battling billionaires could wield, and with the independent media some of them were running. He gradually brought them to heel and attached them to himself. Those who refused to be so coopted were destroyed by exile, imprisonment and mulcting.

Those politically destroyed included media owner Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris Berezovsky and the fantastically wealthy Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin himself also arranged to join the ranks of the remaining oligarchs, amassing great wealth that however cannot be specified with certainty. He certainly has at least a few billions, and may be wealthy enough to place in the top ten of Forbes’ list of the wealthiest persons in the world.

Deripaska is therefore not just a random aluminum mogul. That he is allowed to be an oligarch bespeaks his subordination to Putin. Working for him is the same as working for Putin. And the AP report of Manafort’s deal with Deripaska makes this point quite clear.

One of Manafort’s charges, was to open a pro-Russian television station in the Ukraine, which however never materialized despite an $18 million payment. Deripaska charged Manafort with bad faith and last summer spoke of suing him, but once Trump won the election he said no more about a suit.

Manafort denies that the work he did for Deripaska had any political dimensions, and initially seemed to deny doing this kind of work for a powerful Russian concern at all.

Although his relationship with Deripaska seems to have ended in 2009, Manafort went on to do similar work for pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych . Yanukovych was overthrown by the Euromaidan crowds in 2014 and now lives in exile in Russia. Russia then took back Crimea from Ukraine, which had turned hostile to Moscow (Khrushchev gave Russia’s Crimea to Ukraine when all were part of the same country in the 1950). As a result of the annexation of Crimea, the United States and Western European countries placed sanctions on Russia. Russia wants those sanctions removed. One deal ruined by the sanctions was a $500 bn. arrangement with Exxon-Mobil, i.e. with current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Putin and his circle believe that Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and tilt toward the European Union was engineered by the CIA, and that it is possible that Washington may try to get up a color revolution in Moscow itself. Russia would like to break up the European Union, break up NATO, recover Ukraine as a sphere of influence, and erase US and European sanctions. These goals have been voiced by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and others in their circle who came to power in Washington last November.

Then as the Manafort news was breaking, someone in the FBI leaked that the agency had evidence of Trump operatives being in direct contact with Russian officials and colluding to sink the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Calif) also said Wednesday that the evidence for collusion between Trump operatives and Russian ones to hand Trump the elections was not simply circumstantial. That is, he is aware of direct evidence to that effect.

In other words, Wednesday was a very bad day for the Trump team.

Then Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, went to see Trump to reassure him, and said publicly that the US intelligence community may have acquired communications of the Trump team because they had had non-US citizens under surveillance, and then the Trumpies called them up. Who ever is in contact with a person under investigation in this day and age also comes under investigation.

Trump took Nunes’s pronouncement to vindicate his allegation that President Obama ordered him wiretapped inside the Trump White House.

Nunes, however, continued to say that there was no evidence that Obama ever ordered that Trump be put under surveillance.

Nunes was criticized for visiting Trump and saying these things since it brought into question the integrity of the House investigation of Trump’s Russia ties. Nunes may also have revealed classified information.

Sen. John McCain immediately called for a joint select committee on intelligence to be shared by the House and the Senate.

So the evidence trail leading to Russia is getting deeper and the Trump administration has no idea what to do about it.

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Related video:

CBS News: “New details on Paul Manafort’s alleged ties to Russia”

27 Responses

  1. here’s real news. Israel and netanyahu interfere in plain sight in US politics and try to sway elections. that’s what comey should be investigating. all political actors are on the take in DC, from Israel, from defense contractors, from anyone with money.
    manafort’s connections with fat cats is not news. it is an attempted coup by the CIA and the permanent government to unseat Trump.

    • And because what Israel does is in plain sight, we must regretfully conclude that a lot of voters are willing to tolerate that. But if Russians connections are kept secret, then how are the voters to make a similar decision?

      And ultimately, if you want to be all judgmental about that, then how about comparing what the Israel-lobby voters support for a domestic agenda to what this bizarre new White Power bloc supports, based on their admiration for Putin, LePen, and every racist crypto-fascist in Europe? It turns out the former include millions who support very liberal policies at home, from universal health care to strong civil rights for minorities, which makes their blind allegiance to Israel’s growing Apartheid sickening. But the latter are very consistent in what they want at home and abroad: a Master Race whom the government subsidizes with undeserved favors, while it persecutes women/Moslems/non-Whites/the poor. Either you should stop pretending the Trumpites are pro-union egalitarians, or you should make clear your own agenda for domestic politics.

    • Sure, both Israel and Saudi Arabia have been known to influence U.S. elections. But no one has done so previously through such brazenly illegal means.

      And while I’m no fan of Netanyahu, Putin is clearly worse. While Trump seems to be in the pocket of both, willing to ignore the bloody international crimes of both expansionist militants.

    • It was hip to say they wanted to unseat him for a while. But that overlooks at least one thing…why Comey talked about the HRC investigation, but waited to talk about Trump’s. That threw things out of kilter. It’s strange I read no one speculating they changed their minds. link to juancole.com

  2. No.1…Certainly Putin and his mob are somewhat desperate to have sanctions lifted. They knew Trump, ever the business man, if there is something in it for him, was the better choice to lift the sanctions. (Don’t be surprised if there are Russian sweetheart deals for Trump inc in the future.”)

    No 2…Rep. Gowdy told us repeatedly that “leaking classified information is a crime.” However, yesterday Nunes ran to “Daddy Trump’ like a school boy and told Trump and the press he had information that exonerated Trump of collusion. Here is what Politico reported…”A Republican source with knowledge of the situation claimed the information that Nunes talked about was from the intelligence community and not the White House.”

    I hope Rep. Gowdy will call for an investigation to see if Nunes broke the law by leaking classified intelligence.

  3. The Trump administration will have a diversion. Will it be North Korea? or another outrageous executive order? It is tempting when cornered to do something really stupid and dangerous. I would not be surprised if something wild happens.

    • Diversion? I wouldn’t bet against Trump kicking sand in Cuba’s face. What did Fidel ever do for him?

      It comes with much lower risk than eyeball to eyeball with Kim, and if Trump is half the businessman that he claims to be (probably just about half) he can evaluate. risk.

    • Right now, they’ve got the dual distractions of the Gorsuch confirmation and the vote on TrumpCare. If not for that, we might get a series of inane, misspelled “tweets” griping about – oh, I don’t know, maybe all the mean people saying mean things about that GOOD Mexican, Mr. Nuñes. Or the UNTRUE! ALL LIES!!! fake news that Melania won’t sleep with him anymore. Bad! B-A-A-A-A-D!!

  4. Some additional tidbits- would be good to have the full details filled in by knowledgeable people:
    –Manafort’s payment was to be 10 million a year; according to Rachael Maddow last night we don’t know when it ended;
    –Yanukovych himself was fabulously rich and corrupt;
    –some of the oligarchs had KGB (now FSB) ties;
    –Tillerson apparently was the one who negotiated the oil deal…
    Further:
    Environmentally, Obama had effectively stopped 3 huge pipeline projects which Trump will re-start: Keystone XL,
    DAPL, and the Russia one, stopped by the sanctions. The Russia one involves Arctic drilling. All 3 represent enormous environmental disasters, for global warming, oil spills and
    otherwise.
    The political/global power play situation has many aspects. One side of this is the very real fears Russia can have from NATO aggressively expanded to its borders, with military maneuvers in Poland and so on. Another is fascist influences in the new Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe. Another aspect are the possibly legitimate fears by people in the Baltic states, Poland and so on of Russian expansionism- but how real is that? It may be hard to judge, but if one just pretends that Russia under Putin is not expansionist, it could come to a situation where it is too late- a long game is being played. And “sphere of influence”
    can have different aspects.
    I remember when the Wall came down in Germany: there was such a rush to unify, and many things were badly done.
    The opportunity was there to combine the best aspects of West and East; instead the laws of the West along with rapacious capitalism, stress, materialism were all simply
    glued on top. But there was an overwhelming feeling on the part of Germans- mostly unvoiced- that we better get this over with quick before Russia changes its mind, who knows what will happen later on. Hence the rush.
    To be sure there are many sides to the story of Eastern Europe: Soviet oppression; Russian oppression; terrible aspects of life in the FSU; “good” aspects of life there which were wiped out by the corporate capitalism that was imported whole hog; disastrous “shock therapy” economics; stupidity and organizational maladroitness of the EU; unfortunate involvement of the US dragging NATO into the Middle East; vice versa for Libya…
    Then there is the incredible corruption of the Russian “kleptocracy” in the words of the former ambassador who mysteriously died recently in Washington; a host of other mysterious deaths associated with these questions…
    Then there is the geopolitics of US/China relations as well…
    and the Syria situation…and North Korea…and and…
    This all makes for an extremely complex situation, and Trump and Co certainly are exactly the wrong people to be in charge at this extremely difficult and delicate time. We
    can’t trust anything they say, much less their motives, and anything they do.

    • This is the way all such articles should be. I’m not being facetious. The prof was heavy on Russia for Crimea I thought on Scheer Intelligence. I’m glad, Manabort, you let your thoughts run on the long history. Russia’s got some adept kleptocrats, but no one’s taking Michael Hudson’s wording seriously…”financial warfare.” It can escalate and escalate and escalate…and our neocon press will say it’s just “deals” under a liberalized economic milieu. But I think Hudson’s right. Let it go unchecked too far (meddling in Ukraine as happened), and IMO somethin’s gonna blow. The meddlers are egotistical out of their minds…”F the EU” eg. We should be reminded of this financial warfare over there frequently…after-wall-looting, Latvia, Hunter Biden on the board of that Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The press doesn’t go back into it enough. The prof I’m sure has once or twice. Guess we can’t expect him to review every time the subj comes up. A few words though I think would always be appropriate. This time Manabort’s done it, so it’s covered at Informed Comment.

  5. A little fleshing out of our mogul’s history:

    Deripaska, 49, notably made his fortune in the cut-throat metals industry, where contract killings were so common the struggle for assets became known as the “Aluminium Wars.”

    Deripaska emerged unscathed, at one point acquiring almost 100 percent of Russia’s aluminium production — a feat few believe could have been achieved without adopting some of the darker practices of the time. He still owns the vast aluminium company RusAl.

    In 2007, the U.S. State Department denied Deripaska a visa; though it declined to say why, U.S. officials at the time told Reuters he was denied entry to the U.S. amid concerns about his links to organized crime.

    Deripaska doesn’t deny he has, at times, had to collaborate with suspected mafia figures. In 2012, he settled a $1 billion court case with a man he said had acted as his mafia cover in the 1990s. Deripaska said he had no choice but to work with the man. Such were the times, he said.

    link to abcnews.go.com

    • Thanks for this additional info. One thing I think you implied, but could have added explicitly. Deripaska couldn’t have achieved his dominance not only without nefarious means, but also it would have required the approval and probable collusion of the Putin government. I suspect Putin and cronies got big kickbacks for helping him and he also feels beholden to Putin and would act as Putin’s agent whenever asked.

  6. Devil’s Advocate:

    You’ve got a guy who was lobbying for a Russian business man with ties to Putin eleven years ago and has undertaken various similar tasks since; obviously someone specialising in the sort of PR nation states and multinationals employ to promote or massage their image among US lawmakers and public, the sort of thing many nations do and which Israel has developed to a fine art. Is it so surprising that Manafort would know Trump or, since he did, that Trump would call on his expertise when faced with the unfamiliar demands of handling a presidential campaign?

    As for Putin’s billionaire cronies, that’s normal these days when the world is more or less run by billionaires who expect to exert influence. Look at those who support AIPAC. Russia, like most ancient nations, tends, after periods of social upheaval, to revert to a more or less familiar ruling structure; Putin a latter day Tsar, Sisi a Pharaoh, and Xi Jinping an Emperor. None have ever been poor, they couldn’t do it if they were, nor is running a nation a task for a those of too fastidious financial integrity. Look at poor Obama, clean as a whistle and totally hopeless. I knew a young priest many years ago, Trevor his name, fastidious he was, wore a biretta. He was also a social worker and one day assigned a household about which his department had some concern. There he found a elderly man living alone in a house filled 3 to 4 feet high with old newspapers he had been collecting since the war, through which were only enough passages left to move about his business. Trevor was appalled, he gathered a group of well-wishers from his church and spent the weekend clearing and cleaning the old man’s house. He was totally taken aback when he called a week later to find the old man stone dead in his unfamiliar surroundings.

    Is it yet clear that Putin had even the faintest influence on the US election, or that Trump ever sought such a thing?

  7. I’m still waiting for the there there. We tried to influence Russian elections in the Yeltsin era – and we stuck our tongue out at Russia after the Cold War, and commenced to encircle them, after promising not to. Look, countries hire lobbyists to influence on their behalf. What’s the problem?! Until I see a smoking gun, I wish this country would move on discuss serious issues like truly universal health care and climate change. These truly matter in our everyday life. Raising the tensions with Russia over this ‘fake’ news is not worthy of great democracy coping with serious problems!

    • As I understand it, if an American politician takes a $10 million campaign donation from a foreigner, he’s in deep trouble, and if it’s the foreign government making the contribution, that’s even a bigger problem. With the Russians, there’s no distinct line between the oligarchs and Putin’s government.

      If an American politician receives $5 million of behind the scenes campaign help, that too is a big deal. Trump has too many Russian ties and too many ties to Eastern European banks not to dig into this further. There’s a high probability that the investigations will go on, unless Republicans block them.

      The big problem is that the Russians appear to have done some things that were too sophisticated to pull off without American help. Some of that has already been hinted at in the news. There’s a high probability we’re going to learn more.

  8. Regarding the thickening (and the outing) of the plot, Graydon Carter recently wrote in Vanity Fair,

    “Sprawling, complex stories like Watergate—or Kremlingate, for that matter—are anything but straightforward affairs, and for the reporters trying to make sense of things, it is akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. It takes time, but eventually the puzzle comes together. And as it was more than four decades ago, you’ve got two great news organizations, The New York Times and The Washington Post, in complete rut over who will get the goods first. The Post wants to reclaim the position it had after it toppled a president, in the wake of Watergate. And the Times is out to make sure that the Post doesn’t have a repeat. When the dust settles, the real history will begin.… (I)n the end, proper historians and serious journalists will descend in droves to mop up the lies, the half-truths, and the criminality.”

    LINK: link to vanityfair.com

  9. meanwhile trump is doing a good job prosecuting the bushobama never ending war. killing civilians in great numbers in both syria and iraq at once

    • Have you considered the possibility that the Trump-Putin alliance was not meant to bring peace, but like the Hitler-Stalin detente of another age, was meant to facilitate the launching of major wars by both countries?

  10. Why is there nothing in the news about the dailykos report about Seth Abramson’s conjecture that Trump and associates were just doing a money deal and happened to win the presidency?

  11. It is surprising that you, Dr. Cole, of all people would not recognize the neo-McCarthyism of the CNN and MSNBC anti-Russian hysteria and utterly reject it — “Have you now, or ever been, associated with any Russian?”.

  12. “Putin’s inner circle believe that Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and its tilt toward the European Union was engineered by the CIA…..”

    The leader of the Orange Revolution was Viktor Yuschenko, was to serve as Ukraine’s president from 2005 to 2010. His wife, Kathy, is a Chicago-born U.S. citizen who had served as a U.S. State Department official and in various capacities during the Reagan administration. The speculation in Russia – albeit unproven – has been that she is a CIA operative and the actual force and influence behind her husband’s political career.

    The Ukrainian-American community in the U.S. has had historically close ties to the Republican Party and has been anti-communist and anti-Moscow in orientation.

    There had been significant evidence that oligarch Boris Berezovsky had met with Yuschenko’s representatives in London to provide assistance to his campaign for the presidency.

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