13 January 2019   Leave a comment

The New York Times and the Washington Post both have very disquieting stories about the relationship between US President Trump and Russian President Putin. The Times article was published on Friday evening and was titled “F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia”. It is very difficult to describe how unusual such a title is and I would consider it unparalleled in the history of US foreign relations. The article describes the concern of the FBI over the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and the two times Mr. Trump explained the dismissal of Comey over concern with the investigation into his relationship with Russia. The article points out that these concerns had been evident prior to the firing of Comey, but that the FBI had refused to investigate those concerns over a fear of appearing partisan during the campaign.

Mr. Trump has vigorously denied the story, but the Times outlines the factual bases for the concerns:

“Mr. Trump had caught the attention of F.B.I. counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump had refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail, praising President Vladimir V. Putin. And investigators had watched with alarm as the Republican Party softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia.

“Other factors fueled the F.B.I.’s concerns, according to the people familiar with the inquiry. Christopher Steele, a former British spy who worked as an F.B.I. informant, had compiled memos in mid-2016 containing unsubstantiated claims that Russian officials tried to obtain influence over Mr. Trump by preparing to blackmail and bribe him.”

The article in the Washington Post is similarly disturbing and it is titled
“Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration.” The Post indicates that there are no official records from any of the five face-to-face meetings President Trump has had with President Putin and that, in at least one case, President Trump has confiscated the notes of the meeting taken by the US translator.

“As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

It is more than unusual to not have any records of discussions between two heads of state. Samantha Vinograd served on Obama’s National Security Council from 2009-2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush and is currently an analyst for CNN. She outlines the concerns over Mr. Trump’s behavior:

“Even worse, giving the Russian government sensitive information that US officials do not have — information on what was discussed in meetings between Putin and Trump — also represents a major operational risk. The Russian government likely has more knowledge than our own administration does on key bilateral policy discussions, including Israel, which Trump acknowledged that they discussed.

“It’s also an intelligence win for Putin. Russian officials’ access to this sensitive information represents a potential bribery point the Putin can use against Trump at a later date. Russia can threaten to release parts of presidential conversations if, for example, Trump threatens to do something that they don’t like. In short, by concealing the contents of his meetings, the President is opening the door for Putin to manipulate him and use him as an asset.”

The US Congress will undoubtedly investigate these matters further. But that these questions are even being asked is something I find difficult to fathom and should deeply trouble anyone who cares about American democracy.

Posted January 13, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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