Trump calls Special Counsel a “Witch Hunt”: But what is his relation to Russia?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Now that a Special Counsel (former FBI director Robert Mueller) has been appointed by the deputy head of the Department of Justice, it is time to review exactly what needs investigating.

Trump is clearly terrified of the investigation. He immediately called the Mueller appointment harmful to “our country,” and the “greatest single witch hunt” of an American politician.

I would argue that the SC should look at influence-peddling by foreign nations in the Trump campaign across the board, and not just at Russia. Turkey keeps coming up in discussions of Mike Flynn, the disgraced former National Security Adviser who was fired for allegedly neglecting to report or lying about his contacts with the Russian embassy.

Rod Rosenstein, the number two man at the Department of Justice, appointed the special counsel because his boss, Jeff Sessions, had to recuse himself from involvement in the investigation of Trump ties to the Russians. Sessions himself had interactions with the Russian embassy. This seems a sad commentary on the whole mess.

Rosenstein was apparently surprised and stung by the negative public reaction to the letter he wrote Trump, at Trump’s request, concerning the issue of whether Jim Comey should be fired as head of the FBI. Trump appears to have suckered Rosenstein and to have toyed with making him the villain of the piece. Ironically, by making Rosenstein the fall guy, Trump put him in a position where he more or less had to appoint a special counsel in order to hang on to the tattered shreds of his reputation.

So what’s to investigate?

Well there are all these questions around Mike Flynn. He took $30,000 from Russia Today, the Moscow propaganda organ, to attend an event with Putin that commemorated the 10-year anniversary of its founding. RT journalists do some good work but of course Putin sets the editorial line. I think of it the way I do the Wall Street Journal, where the editorials are sheer lunacy, but the news pages often have outstanding reporting from excellent journalists. The reason Flynn’s having taken that money is a scandal is twofold. First, as a retired general, he isn’t supposed to take money from foreign governments. Retired officers are always open to being called back to duty, so they shouldn’t be under foreign influence. Second, having taken the money, Flynn declined to report it, as he was required to do.

While still a civilian, Flynn called the Russian Embassy several times in November and December of 2016. What did he discuss with them? Is it true that he reassured them that the sanctions placed on Russia by Barack Obama over the unilateral annexation of Crimea would be scaled down? These calls would have violated the Logan act, which prohibits non-government private Americans from conducting diplomacy on behalf of the US government.

Flynn had a juicy consulting contract from a wealthy Turkish businessman close to President Tayyip Erdogan.

Is it true, as it is now being reported, that Flynn told Trump he was under investigation over these Turkey ties, and that Trump insisted on appointing him Nat’l Security Adviser anyway? Is it true that while in office and while he continued to be on the Turkish payroll, he opposed a joint US operation with Syrian Kurds, to which Turkey objects?

Is it true that Trump asked FBI director James Comey to back off the investigation of Flynn and to give Trump an oath of personal allegiance.

Is there evidence that Comey’s refusal led to his firing. If so, that act could be a form of obstruction of justice.

What about the 18 previously undisclosed contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak?

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS News: “Trump weighs in on Russia probe and special counsel”

13 Responses

  1. Juan — your list is accurate but not sufficient. Perhaps the biggest issue is the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian act of illegal breaking into (digitally) the DNC headquarters and the Clinton campaign chair’s office to steal and publicly disseminate private campaign material in order to alter the outcome of the 2016 election toward Trump. This is essentially what happened in Watergate, although today’s tools of break-in are digital, not picking office door locks. And this involves a foreign power as well as a US campaign (maybe), so it would actually be a lot worse than Watergate if shown to be true. Given the razor sharp closeness of the election result, it seems pretty clear that several individual items alone swung the election to Trump. The Russian cyber campaign is one of them — did the Trumpistas assist? That is the $64,000 question. If the answer is yes, then we have an illegitimate president.

    • Assange has denied time and again that Russia was the source of the leaks. He has presented himself as a truthful individual to this day. Wikileaks has a 100% record of verified information. 100%. Plus, Wikileaks has put up a 20K reward for information in the case of the DNC staffer killed in D.C. One has to ask himself why would he do that for some random guy killed in D.C? And if this staffer was the one found to be responsible, not the Russians, would there be all of this outrage at that staffer? Would we be running around with pitchforks and drooling at the prospect of lynching him too? He would then be called a whistleblower would he not?

      What did the emails reveal? They revealed the absolute revulsion of the party leadership to Bernie and their corruption. Who cares where the information came from or who leaked it. They have never denied the veracity of the emails. The party leadership’s only complaint is they were stolen. So now we hate the truth? Do you hate Chelsea Manning as well? Do you hate Snowden? We’ve killed the message because of the messenger…and we dont even know WHO the messenger was.

      ” the Russian act of illegal breaking into (digitally) the DNC headquarters and the Clinton campaign chair’s office ”
      This has not even been proven, yet this is the line that people repeat over and over and now its truth.

      You dont find the timing of all this Russia baiting a little fishy considering the situation in Syria and along the Russian border and Trumps NATO talk? What is NATOs purpose again? Clinton lost because of Clinton. Period. Shes tried three times and lost three times. We now have Trump because our entire electoral process needs severe reform. But we aren’t hearing about that or superdelegates anymore are we? Doesn’t even seem to be a concern. Hey look over there! Squirrel! I mean, err, Russia!

      I would much rather see a special prosecutor appointed for the inquiry into Israeli influence in our elections.

  2. I’d go ahead and throw in the meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian ambassador in which the US press was not invited and foreign intelligence was leaked. The one where Putin himself is kindly offering a record of the Oval Office conversation. When we have to rely on Putin to provide a record, that gives him leverage over Trump right there. Trump is compromised, hands down.

  3. I’m a big fan, Professor Cole. I follow Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, DemocracyNow…

    But i also like several RT shows.

    Chris Hedges, who has my greatest esteem, recently got a show on RT. I’ve read his books for 10+ years and listened to countless lectures from him prior, and I detect no change since he went to RT.

    Thom Hartmann was a Bernie fan and runs his show on RT in kind.

    They’ve done some great documentaries on America.

    I’m not their shill – they just seemed good according to the same standards i apply to your blog.

    yet RT seems to be treated differently, with more negative suspicion, than other networks. “propaganda” you say? what’s up with that.

    • if anything, i see RT as a healthy antidote to the pro-US propaganda found on every major American news network. i avoid them and watch democracy now and RT with maybe a 70/30 split

  4. NO other administration has had this many connections to Russia. I have lost count, but at least SEVEN Trump officials have had secretive meetings, and phone calls, with Russian agents. No other American President has openly admired and supported the Russian tyrant Putin, and shown him that much of respect, that he does not give President Obama, a fellow American. Talks of business deals, money laundering, sale of real estate to Russian oligarchs, somehow keep haunting Donald Trump, his sons, his son in law, and their various businesses, and many of these accusations have turned out to be true. It is hard to believe that an American President will invite officials from this pariah nation into the White House, and reveal classified information, this is all surreal. It is hard to believe that Trumps supporters have embraced all this, and keep supporting him, despite the fact that investigations may lead to treason charges. If this was Obama or Hillary, you can only imagine how loud the outrage would be, accusations of treason by right wingers, and the chants of “lock her up” would be heard in every Republican rally. Now they are all noticeably quiet.

    • “It is hard to believe that Trumps supporters have embraced all this, and keep supporting him, despite the fact that investigations may lead to treason charges.”

      Believe it.

      “You can’t fix stupid. There’s not a pill you can take; there’s not a class you can go to. Stupid is forever.” quoting Mr. Ron White. link to imdb.com

      The besotted comedian’s South Texas country perspective is valid and our country is stuck with the folks who refused to accept we actually had a President who was a person of color and believe women are too emotional/hormonal to be President or own more than seventeen (17) firearms.

  5. In 1968, Nixon should have been prosecuted for coordinating with the South Vietnamese regime while a private citizen running for President. The quid pro quo: Saigon would sabotage LBJ’s peace efforts with Hanoi long enough to tilt the election to Nixon, who would reward Saigon by keeping the war and the stealable foreign aid going for 4 more years.

    Now, will anyone dispute that this was some form of illegal act?

    And if so, how does it differ from Russia’s relationship with Trump? See, this isn’t just about Cold Warriors and Russophobe Clintonites. Allies can solicit treason too, and cause millions of deaths. What matters here is when it becomes the manipulation of events by a foreign power that has been promised a return on its investment.

  6. Unless the FBI already has them, a good place for Mueller to start might be getting a hold of Trump’s tax returns. Of course he has nothing to hide, but still….

  7. There’s no reason why the US should regard Russia as an enemy unless as a threat to its global leadership aspiration. I call it an aspiration because it doesn’t exist. If it did exist and the US was reacting to what would be rebellion, then in Machiavellian terms that would justify putting it down ruthlessly, but Russia, China, Iran etc. are phantom threats to a phantom dream. I imagine Trump didn’t, maybe still doesn’t, see Russia as an enemy. From outside the US media firewall this obsessive pursuit of potsherds of Russian influence in this or that aspect of US political life is largely viewed with wry amusement. US global leadership looked real once, but it was a cloud illusion now morphing into something else; while one can hold the old image in the mind’s eye for a while as it fades, it cannot be called back.

    It’s all very well rejoicing in ‘values shared with Israel’ but perhaps it’s time to take a more realistic look at some of them.

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