Dear Donald –
It’s been an eventful few days. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that you’ve only been in power less than a month. This much turmoil, intrigue, and scandal usually takes years to develop, and that’s why I’m so concerned – in part because of the sheer level of scandal already and what that might portend for the years to come and in part because so much of this was known or knowable at the time of the election, which makes me truly concerned for the health of our democracy.
Earlier this week, you cut ties with Mike Flynn, your national security advisor, because, ostensibly, he lied to Mike Pence about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador during the transition. To be clear, I in no way question the firing of a top aide that misled, or outright lied to, the Vice President. Such behavior is unacceptable. However, your rationale for his firing and your comments since then seem to clearly indicate that you’re actually not that concerned about the underlying illegal activity, just the fact that he lied to Pence or, more honestly, that he got caught in the papers. After all, if you were truly concerned about Flynn’s lying, you might not have waited two weeks after finding out to inform Pence. In yesterday’s press conference, you seemed much angrier about the fact that the information was leaked rather than the underlying behavior. That’s a problem. However, it’s not unexpected that someone else in your inner circle would have had inappropriate contacts with Russia. Let’s do a quick rundown of the shady dealings of your campaign and administration staff:
- Paul Manafort was your former campaign manager. From 2004-2012, he worked for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine with close ties to the Kremlin. In 2009-2010, he helped elect Viktor Yanukovych president of Ukraine. After Yanukovych was charged with corruption and he fled to Moscow, a ledger discovered in party headquarters showed over $12 million in payments to Manafort over a five year period. During the campaign, there were accusations that Manafort used his connections to Russia to organize a quid pro quo – Russia would release hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks and, in return, your campaign would take a more pro-Russi stance regarding Ukraine. Just before the Republican Convention, the Republican Party platform was amended with regards to support for Ukraine in resisting Russian incursions. Members of the platform committee said that the changes were directly ordered by representatives of your campaign. Shortly thereafter, Wikileaks began publishing DNC emails. Once Manafort’s connections to Russia and Ukraine became news, he left the campaign but remained an unofficial advisor. Intelligence sources have since confirmed that Manafort had contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign.
- Carter Page is a former foreign policy adviser of yours who otherwise made his name in the oil industry. As I’ve written before, back in July, Carter supposedly met with the head of Russian state oil company Rosneft. In that meeting, Page offered to roll back sanctions on Russia if you were elected and Sechin agreed to sell a 19% stake in the company – sanctions that directly harmed oil profits, particularly a deal with Exxon and its former CEO, current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. On December 7, Rosneft sold a 19.5% stake to a multinational conglomerate with a base in the Cayman Islands and almost 1/3 of the money coming from an unknown source. The next day, Carter Page had a meeting at Rosneft HQ. Intelligence sources are also now accusing Page of having communications with Russian intelligence operatives during the campaign.
- Mike Flynn is your former national security advisor. In August of 2015, he gave a paid speech in Russia for the state propaganda TV network, RT. At that event, Flynn sat with Vladimir Putin at dinner. Around the same time, Flynn endorsed you and became an advisor to your campaign. On December 29, President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for interference in the election. That same day, Flynn called the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and reportedly indicated that the sanctions would be rolled back once you were sworn in. Russia did not retaliate against the sanctions, which is not typical behavior for them. The next day, you tweeted that Putin had made a smart decision. Intelligence officials intercepted the call between Flynn and Kislyev and were concerned. Flynn was interviewed by the FBI and did not admit he spoke to Kislyev about the sanctions. When it was diannly reported publicly that he did, he resigned. Intelligence officials now also believe that Flynn had contact with Russian operatives during the campaign as well.
All of this without Rex’s ties to the Russian leadership. Meanwhile, Russia has deployed a new cruise missile system in direct violation of existing arms treaties with the U.S., and a Russian spy ship is cruising 30 miles off the East coast in international waters.
All of this could add up to one of thre things:
- Pure coincidence and happenstance. It’s all pure bad luck and misunderstandings. A lot of smoke, but absolutely no fire.
- Putin has installed a Manchurian candidate in the White House. You are working for Putin and are doing his bidding as he tries to expand his influence in the world. You are willingly going along because of the power you receive and substantial monetary payments from Moscow.
- Putin has done everything he can to get you elected because he thinks you are a destabilizing force in the West and you’ve been an unwitting player in the larger game. To me, this seems like the most likely scenario. I believe that, at various points in time, Russian operatives approached your staff (or vice versa) to seek the exchange of small favors to mutual benefit. While you and your team thought you were getting a leg up or some financial windfall, Putin and his colleagues were playing the long game. And you had no idea.
Your reckless statements at yesterday’s presser just goes to support that theory. You attack allies and call into question longstanding mutual defense agreements. These actions will, over time, only destabilize Europe and Southeast Asia, giving Russia greater Room to move and expand their influence in both regions.
The other, potentially more terrifying, part of this debacle is that most of the facts here were known, or fully knowable, at the time of the election. For myriad reasons, voters and elected officials chose to ignore these concerns, largely because they thought they could get something out of your election. To this day, we still see Congressional Republicans giving you wide berth with the hopes that they can get tax reform (read: tax cuts for rich folks) passed with you in office. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the knowabilty of these issues is that the FBI knew about all of these contacts at the same time Comey was writing letters about potential emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer and they refused to divulge that information to the American public. In such an environment, our democracy is truly broken. Individuals in power are denying information to the general public about potentially treasonous acts to serve their own puerile interests.
I only hope that people are listening now. And that they will engage the democratic process to let it be known that this is unacceptable.