Thursday, 22 December 2016

Trump and the Russian connection

Donald Trump’s Many, Many, Many, Many Ties to Russia
People walk past a mural on a restaurant wall depicting U.S. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on May 13, 2016

Russian intelligence agencies have allegedly recently digitally broken into four different American organizations that are affiliated either with Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party since late May. All of the hacks appear designed to benefit Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations in one fashion or another.

When asked about this, and his affection for Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump said any inference that a connection exists between the two is absurd and the stuff of conspiracy. “I have ZERO investments in Russia,” he tweeted after the Democratic National Committee was apparently hacked by Russia and the emails released by Wiki Leaks on the eve of the DNC convention to nominate Clinton as its 2016 presidential candidate.

Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work.

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Trump and Putin: A relationship set to be tested soon
A woman with a child walks past a mural of US president-elect Donald Trump & Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belgrade. FOTO: REUTERS

For much of this year, Mr Donald Trump & Mr Vladimir Putin have been engaged in a long-distance courtship. They have said kind things about each other in public & separately expressed visions of a mutually agreeable future.

Since Mr Trump's election, the anticipation has become more explicit. It culminated this week in the US president-elect's call for America to "move on" from allegations of Russian electoral hacking, & the Russian President's blithe pronouncement on Friday that he would rather plan for a new relationship with Mr Trump than retaliate in kind to sanctions & expulsions ordered by outgoing president Barack Obama.

But as with all such arms-length pairings, the looming question is whether Mr Trump & Mr Putin will find fulfilment or disappointment once face-to-face reality strikes.

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Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.

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Trump: 'I have ZERO investments in Russia'
Donald Trump's comment comes in response to one by conservative pundit George Will. | Getty

Donald Trump sought to distance himself Tuesday from reports that Russian government hackers were responsible for the breach of Democratic National Committee servers in order to boost his presidential bid.

"In order to try and deflect the horror and stupidity of the Wikileakes disaster, the Dems said maybe it is Russia dealing with Trump. Crazy!" Trump tweeted. "For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia."

Hillary Clinton's campaign has suggested that the Kremlin is behind the hack, citing private-sector analysis that found two Russian intelligence agencies were responsible. President Barack Obama suggested in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday that he would not be surprised if Russia were responsible, given past cyberattacks from official Moscow.

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Trump And Russia: Will Anything Be Done?

The revelations about Russia’s role in our recent election confirm what many suspected during the campaign. The revelations answer some questions that have been raised in recent days. For example, it is now clear that Jill Stein, who is also cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin, took such an active role in calling for recounts to take attention away from the real story. Similarly, we now know that people like Senator Bob Corker and Mitt Romney, whose views on Russia are firmly in the mainstream of Republican foreign policy opinion, were never really in the running for Secretary of State, but were fodder for media speculation before President-elect Trump decided upon Rex Tillerson, a man with a close relationship with Putin, for that key position.

Unfortunately, the story of Russia’s involvement in the recently completed campaign raises a lot more questions than it answers. These include how we allowed this to happen, what our diplomatic response should be, whether President Obama should have made this news public earlier and to what extent this taints Donald Trump’s victory.

The last question is the most important one. Donald Trump won this election by fewer than 100,000 votes in three key states, while losing the popular vote by 2.5 million. In other words, the was a very close race. While we cannot know for certain that enough voters would have changed their mind about Trump if they had known the extent to which he was getting help from the Kremlin, it is a very strong possibility that the vote would have been meaningfully different. The election, however, cannot be redone. Additionally, Donald Trump cannot be retroactively docked votes and thus have the outcome changed. Instead, Trump will assume the presidency under enormous suspicion, but that was going to happen anyway.

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Trump's Credibility Problem on Russia

It wasn't just President-elect Donald Trump's kind words about Vladimir Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign. Or his repeated denials that Russia was involved in the hacking of the Clinton campaign's and DNC's emails. ("They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody," Trump told Fox on Sunday. "It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.").

Or the Trump team's extraordinary statement on Friday blasting the CIA after the Washington Post first reported that the agency concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win. "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It's now time to move on and 'Make America Great Again,'" Trump's transition said Friday night."

When you add up ALL of these stories, Trump has a credibility problem with it comes to Russia. Why not take a foreign government's suspected interference in an American election seriously? Why not demand a full investigation? And why lash out at the CIA? These questions make everything Trump touches regarding Russia look suspect -- all before he takes office next month.

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Donald Trump’s Russia connections

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has proudly disdained the knowledge of experts, particularly within the realm of foreign policy.

“I watch the shows,” the Republican frontrunner infamously said last year on “Meet the Press” when questioned about where he had gained knowledge of military matters. Asked with whom he consults about foreign affairs on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last month, Trump bragged, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

On Wednesday, however, Trump found himself among a roomful of policy wonks when he delivered his first major foreign policy address at the Mayflower Hotel under the auspices of a Washington establishment think tank: the Center for the National Interest. Originally known as the Nixon Center, the former president’s once-eponymous institution is a hub of foreign policy “realism,” a doctrine of restraint and accommodation that is making a comeback in the post-George W. Bush age of American world-weariness.

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Trump and the Russian connection

The conventions are over, the Trump vs. Clinton death-match has begun. But questions still linger over claims that hacked Democratic National Committee emails released by WikiLeaks show the Democratic primaries were "rigged" to help Hillary Clinton's -- and counterclaims that the DNC hack was the work of Kremlin agents trying to help Donald Trump.

So, what to make of all this?

The affinity between Trump and Vladimir Putin is nothing new. It's been pointed out, for months, both by anti-Trump American commentators (including myself) and by anti-Putin Russian dissidents such as Gary Kasparov. Now, the speculation about the Trump/Putin bromance is on a whole new level, with epithets like "the Siberian candidate" being tossed around (a reference to the 1962 film classic The Manchurian Candidate, in which Chinese Communists plot to install their man as President of the United States, using as their tool a brainwashed American veteran trained as an assassin).

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The Trump-Putin relationship

U.S. democracy & alliances at risk. We pledge to stay vigilant.

There is overwhelming evidence that a Donald Trump presidency will put U.S. democracy and national security interests at risk. Trump’s cozy relationship and lavish praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump’s criticism of the historic U.S. alliance with NATO partners, his invitation to Russian hackers to meddle in the presidential election, and his campaign staff’s financial ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine all pose a danger to vital national interests.

Through this election season, we at have sought to analyze and raise awareness on this critical set of issues. The breadth of analysis, news and opinion are posted as resources on this site for fellow Americans concerned about this threat to our democracy.

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State Department frontrunner is Exxon Mobil exec honored with Russian state award by Putin
FILE PHOTO. June 21, 2013. President Vladimir Putin, left, and ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex W. Tillerson at a ceremony to present awards to the heads and employees of major energy companies. © Michael Klimentyev / Sputnik

President-elect Donald Trump may propose an oil executive with close ties to Russia as his future secretary of state. Rex Tillerson’s nomination may face opposition from Republican legislators who view Russia as a threat to the US, however.

NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other media outlets citing their own sources discussed the oil exec’s possible nomination throughout the weekend, describing it as highly probable.

Tillerson, 64, is a lifetime employee of US oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil, starting with the company in 1975 and rising through the corporate ranks to become one of the company’s key negotiators. Among the deals he has sealed is a 2011 agreement with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, which gave Exxon access to the Russian Arctic and Rosneft a stake in the US company’s projects in North America.

In 2013, President Vladimir Putin presented Tillerson with the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors a foreigner may be awarded from Russia. After the US imposed economic sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, the Arctic drill deal tanked and Exxon suffered as much as $1 billion in losses as a result, according to some estimates. Tillerson has been among the business executives advocating for ties between the two nations to be restored.

related: Trump nominates retired general John Kelly as head of homeland security

Donald J. Trump ‏@realDonaldTrump
"The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

Donald Trump's belligerence could drive China and Russia into each other's arms – isolating the United States 
Could Trump's presidency drive Russia and China into each other's arms? Credit: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen last Friday confirms that the only certainty of his impending presidency will be its uncertainty. The incoming president lacks experience of government and military affairs and is distant from his party’s foreign policy establishment. Prediction has become a matter of parsing campaign rhetoric, post-election personnel appointments and the steady flow of tweets.

Trump’s challenges to the bipartisan post-war US foreign policy consensus are unprecedented. But more serious still is the apparent lack of a clear and consistent strategic vision to guide a different course. Nowhere is this more alarming than in the lack of coherence in policy thinking towards China and Russia. If Trump’s practice follows his rhetoric, the new administration risks welding an alliance between these two powerful states.

Consider, first, Trump’s likely policies toward China. His economic agenda, central to the campaign that took him to the White House, directly threatens China. He has promised prompt action against trade and currency practices he deems ‘unfair’. His broader attack on the current terms of globalization is certain to damage the country that has gained more than any other from them.

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Trump puts Chinese ties at risk while wooing Russia

With a few apparently off-the-cuff comments, US President-elect Donald Trump has threatened Washington's cautious understanding with China while touting an unlikely new detente with Russia.

The United States & China, the world's 2 greatest economies and rivals for the leadership role in the Pacific, are often at loggerheads over trade, human rights and regional disputes.

But President Barack Obama has extended a hand to China's Xi Jinping and worked with Beijing on the global climate change accord and on measures against North Korea's rogue regime.

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White House backs Russia probe against defiant Trump

The White House & leading senators lined up against President-elect Donald Trump on Monday (Dec 12) in calling for a Congressional investigation into US intelligence that Russia interfered to sway last month's election.

The row has pitted the incoming Republican President, who has never previously held elective office, against influential senators on both sides of the aisle, the Central Intelligence Agency & now the outgoing Democratic White House.

US media has reported for days on secret CIA findings that Moscow sought to bolster Mr Trump's election bid, against Democratic former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, by releasing hacked Democratic Party documents.

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Trump to name Russia-friendly Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobilU.S. President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name the chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp as the country's top diplomat, NBC News reported Saturday.

Exxon chief Rex Tillerson emerged on Friday as Trump's leading candidate for U.S. secretary of state and met with him Saturday morning, a transition official told Reuters. The transition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tillerson, 64, had moved ahead in Trump's deliberations over 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has met Trump twice, including at a dinner in New York.

As Exxon's CEO, Tillerson oversees operations in more than 50 countries, including Russia.

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Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

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As Democrats Gather, a Russian Subplot Raises Intrigue

An unusual question is capturing the attention of cyberspecialists, Russia experts and Democratic Party leaders in Philadelphia: Is Vladimir V. Putin trying to meddle in the American presidential election?

Until Friday, that charge, with its eerie suggestion of a Kremlin conspiracy to aid Donald J. Trump, has been only whispered.

But the release on Friday of some 20,000 stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, many of them embarrassing to Democratic leaders, has intensified discussion of the role of Russian intelligence agencies in disrupting the 2016 campaign.

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Congratulations, Trump. Welcome to hell
Dear Mr. Trump
You won. Welcome to hell.

And to think, I thought you’d become president when hell froze over.

Now that the election is finally behind us, may I ask a tiny question: Why did you want this job? Was it on your bucket list? After so many square miles of golf courses, trophy wives, gilt mirrors and crystal chandeliers, was there nothing left to mess with?

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