Analysis

PutinTrump.org looks to the future

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PutinTrump.org is alert to the many outstanding questions about what President Trump will actually do after he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20th.

  • In regards to Russia, will Trump follow a traditional Republican foreign-policy agenda? Or will he do what he said during the campaign: Move to provide Putin with concessions on sanctions and accept the Russian takeover of the Crimea region of the Ukraine?
  • Will Trump support the 70-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance with European nations, or act on his campaign statements, jettisoning the institution as obsolete?
  • Will Trump appoint traditionally sound foreign-policy experts to lead the State Department? Or, will he reward loyalist true believers by appointing a Newt Gingrich or a Michael Flynn, and shift to a purely ideological engagement with the world?
  • Trump has not had a strong foreign-policy team during the campaign, but has made use of men like Paul Manafort and Carter Page who have financial ties with Russia. What role will they play in a Trump administration?
  • Putin has promised to make Russia great again, and Trump has also promised to make America great again. Will they join forces in the Syrian conflict to fight ISIS, thereby supporting the Assad government in its brutal war on civilians?

With the election now over, PutinTrump.org will continue, but at a slightly more deliberate pace. We will continue to post stories on the site each day – linking to the most relevant news reporting and opinion pieces from multiple sources – but for now, our Daily Digest Newsletter will become a weekly digest of the most important headlines. Please subscribe to stay up to date on developments on this issue and on the site.

And while keeping track of the news reports, PutinTrump.org will take time to consider its next iteration. We remain committed to examining the hidden connections with Russia and the ramifications of the relationship between soon-to-be President Trump and Russian President Putin. Your ideas and suggestions for the future of this resource are welcome: Please send to [email protected]

We will keep  Trump accountable for his public and private dealings with Russia, and we must ensure that he upholds America’s traditional democratic values and relationships with our allies. With two authoritarians linking arms, this is a dangerous period for the world we have known since the end of World War II. The future of American democracy demands that we keep watch.

(2016 photo by Gage Skidmore)

Putin-Trump wins: What it means

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We’ve all been warned.

President-elect Donald Trump pledged to be a strongman, just like his idol Russian President Vladimir Putin. And American voters have just handed him the keys to the republic. He will assume the awesome power of the presidency along with Republican control of the Congress and, soon, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. There will be very little check on whatever a President Trump wants to do. His authoritarian tendencies have been clear for all to see and we should expect that he’ll act on them.

Trump’s victory will be celebrated as much in the Kremlin as in Trump Tower. For the first time a foreign adversary has had an overt hand in electing a U.S. president – confirmed a month ago when national intelligence officials said that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee emails in order to interfere in the election. Trump had openly encouraged Russia to hack into Americans’ private emails.

As David Frum, conservative and senior editor at The Atlantic, tweeted Tuesday night: “We may be living through the most successful Russian intelligence operation since the Rosenbergs stole the A-bomb.”

The alliance between Trump and Putin that blossomed on the campaign trail will likely become a full working partnership between the Russian strongman and the American President, threatening traditional U.S. alliances in Europe and around the world. And without Trump’s tax returns – unprecedented secrecy for any presidential candidate in the past 40 years – we still do not know the extent of Trump’s financial indebtedness to Russian oligarchs.  Given his worldwide business ventures and investments from Russians and foreign banks, his conflicts of interest are likely to be enormous.

The global fallout has the potential to be the most ominous. Human-rights activist and former chess champion Garry Kasparov reminded his Twitter followers Tuesday night what a Trump win means in the Baltic States facing an expansionist and saber-rattling Russia: “Americans joke about moving to Canada on Trump win. People in the Baltics are dead serious about their nations & lives being in danger.”

Based on his campaign statements, here are some of the other ramifications of a Trump victory:

Propaganda as policy: Donald Trump’s rhetoric has regularly repeated the same lines spouted by Russian propagandists – for example, that Russia didn’t hack into the Democratic National Committee emails and is not interfering in the American election, or that President Barack Obama started ISIS. These statements are not true, and a President Trump is not likely to stop spouting false Russian propaganda. Trump has clearly adopted the disorienting propaganda technique wielded by Putin that was characterized as a “firehose of falsehoods” in a recent RAND Corporation study. But now, President Trump will have the bully pulpit of the presidency to spout his misinformation, lies and half-truths, further disorienting the public and undermining democratic governance and institutions that depend on citizens knowing the facts – and supporting policies based on those facts.

Foreign election interference becomes the norm: Trump has never condemned Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and interference in U.S. electoral politics, even when informed about it by top-ranking intelligence officials. Like propaganda campaigns, hacking and sabotaging the internet infrastructure could undermine faith in American democracy by compromising independent American elections and calling into question the results. Many believe that this has been Putin’s goal in interfering in this election all along.

A weakened NATO alliance between U.S. and traditional allies: Trump has called NATO obsolete and implied that if its members don’t pay more for their own defense, the U.S. will not defend them from attack. This is in direct conflict with the NATO charter. NATO has been the lynchpin of American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and is detested by Putin, who would like nothing better than see the alliance collapse. Since 2008, Russia has moved troops into the former Soviet republics of Georgia and the Ukraine, and now Russia is making military moves that look like preparations to attack the small, independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – all members of NATO. A President Trump, based on his statements of support for Putin, is unlikely to commit U.S. troops for the Baltic States’ defense.  NATO would be unlikely to survive such a demonstration of its own futility.

No sanctions for Ukraine invasion, and a freer hand for Russia worldwide: On the campaign trail, Trump has said he sees no need for sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and takeover of the Crimea region. Without U.S. leadership, America’s European allies are not likely to keep the sanctions on their own – giving Putin a freer hand for Russian expansionism. In the interest of what Trump has called “getting along” with Russia, there could there be a dramatic U-turn in other U.S foreign policies, aligning the U.S. more with Russia in the Middle East.

What else can we expect from a Trump Administration:

  • An immediate end to the Affordable Care Act, with 25 million people losing their health insurance
  • Deportation for potentially millions of undocumented workers and other immigrants
  • No action global warming, and possibly an American withdrawal from the latest global agreement to reduce greenhouse gases
  • A withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, freeing that country to immediately proceed with their nuclear arms program
  • More nuclear proliferation after Trump encouraged South Korea and Japan to get their own bombs

The bottom line will be new authoritarian rule in America: Trump has threatened to sue women who accuse him of sexual assault, to limit reporters’ access to him and his events, and to change libel laws to make it easier to punish news organizations that report facts about him that he doesn’t like. These are the policies of someone, like Putin, who wants to control his constituency rather than protect a democracy.

American voters have set the country on a dangerous path – one that would embolden Russian expansionism and erode American strength and cooperation among allies around the world. Even with all these real concerns about national security and the U.S. position in the world, the biggest danger is at home: This country will find our cherished democratic values weakened, our constitutional checks and balances upended, and our moral authority squandered at home as well as abroad. But the voters have spoken, and the nation will be dealing with the consequences of this decision for years to come.

(Photo of Donald Trump via Creative Commons)

If Putin-Trump wins Tuesday, here are the scary realities

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If Donald Trump wins the presidency on Nov. 8th, his victory would be celebrated as much in the Kremlin as in Trump Tower. An alliance between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin that blossomed on the campaign trail could become a full working partnership between the Russian strongman and the American wanna-be.

While there are many potential policies of a Trump Administration that would have distressing effects – 25 million people losing their health insurance, for example – for PutinTrump.org, the biggest concerns center around what a Putin-Trump world might look like starting in January 2017. It is not too far-fetched to suppose that a President Trump and Russian President Putin will continue their mutual praise – an unwavering part of the recent campaign. So, what could this relationship mean for national security and traditional U.S. alliances?

Based on Trump’s and Putin’s words and actions, these could be the scary realities of a Putin-Trump world. No one voting for Trump can say they were not warned.

A weakened NATO alliance between U.S. and traditional allies: Trump has called NATO obsolete and implied that if its members don’t pay more for their own defense, the U.S. will not defend them from attack. This is in direct conflict with the NATO charter. NATO has been the lynchpin of American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and is detested by Putin, who would like nothing better than see the alliance collapse. Since 2008, Russia has moved troops into the former Soviet republics of Georgia and the Ukraine, and now Russia is making military moves that look like preparations to attack the small, independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – all members of NATO. A President Trump, based on his statements of support for Putin, is unlikely to commit U.S. troops for the Baltic States’ defense, undermining NATO’s central tenet that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all. NATO would be unlikely to survive such a demonstration of its own futility.

The NATO alliance has kept peace among the great powers in Europe for 70 years, warding off most Russian aggression. Without a robust NATO, an expansionist Russia may be emboldened to act even more aggressively. Without the United States’ protection, some allies may be more likely to seek accommodation with such a powerful state on the march – a recipe for “peace in our time” but paving the way for more war in the future.

No sanctions for Ukraine invasion, and a freer hand for Russia worldwide: On the campaign trail, Trump has said he sees no need for sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and takeover of the Crimea region. Without U.S. leadership, America’s European allies are not likely to keep the sanctions on their own – giving Putin a freer hand for Russian expansionism, as well as more money flowing into Russia. In the interest of what Trump has called “getting along” with Russia, there could there be a dramatic U-turn in other U.S foreign policies, aligning the U.S. more with Russia in the Middle East, as well?  In Syria, that might mean joining Russia in effectively supporting the Assad regime, which has been attacking civilians in a brutal war. It is not hard to picture a crumbling of American alliances and policies around the world that have been in place for decades.

More nuclear weapons: As President, Trump has said he would end the Iran nuclear agreement, which will have the effect of immediately allowing Iran to resume its nuclear program, adding greater instability to the already unstable Middle East. Trump has also called on Japan and South Korea to get their own nuclear weapons, which could lead to greater global proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Propaganda as policy: Donald Trump’s rhetoric has regularly repeated the same lines spouted by Russian propagandists:

  • That Hillary Clinton will start World War 3
  • That Russia didn’t hack into the Democratic National Committee emails and is not interfering in the American election
  • That democratic elections are rigged
  • That unlike President Obama, Vladimir Putin is a strong and popular leader supported by 80% of the Russian public
  • That President Barack Obama started ISIS

None of these statements is true. Why should we think a President Trump would stop spouting false Russian propaganda once elected?

Donald Trump and his aides have clearly adopted the disorienting propaganda technique wielded by Putin that was characterized as a “firehose of falsehoods” in a recent RAND Corporation study. Throughout his campaign Trump has consistently repeated known lies and half-truths, from the charge that Obama was not born in the United States to the claim that most Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves. This overwhelming deluge of misinformation leaves many unable to discern fact from fiction – and even the most robust fact-checking by the media is never able to fully catch up with the lie-a-minute flood that Trump has unleashed in his campaign.

A U.S. administration that employs similar propaganda techniques would undermine democratic governance and institutions that depend on facts – and dialogue and policies based on those facts. The overall effect would be to undermine public trust in all American governments and institutions, as well as the media reporting on them.

Foreign election interference becomes the norm: Trump has never condemned Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and interference in U.S. electoral politics, even when informed about it by top-ranking intelligence officials. Like propaganda campaigns, hacking and sabotaging the internet infrastructure could undermine faith in American democracy by compromising independent American elections and calling into question the results. Many believe that this has been Putin’s goal in interfering in this election all along.

Authoritarian rule: Trump has threatened to jail his political opponent, to sue women who accuse him of sexual assault, to limit reporters’ access to him and his events, and to change libel laws to make it easier to punish news organizations that report facts about him that he doesn’t like. These are the policies of someone, like Putin, who wants to control his constituency rather than protect a democracy.

If American voters elect a President Trump on Tuesday, this nation will have set itself on a dangerous path – one that would embolden Russian expansionism and erode American strength and cooperation among allies around the world. With all these real concerns about national security and the U.S. position in the world, the biggest danger is at home: This country would find its cherished democratic values weakened. In this election, American democracy really is on the line.

(Sources noted inline. Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Yes, there are plenty of Russia-Putin-Trump connections

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Item: Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.

The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2016

Someday, this will likely be one of those stories for which the venerable New York Times will feel compelled to apologize for getting it so wrong. Unfortunately, it occurs at a critical time when the nation’s voters need investigative and truth-telling skills more than ever. Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and the FBI may all say there are no direct links – but that’s simply not believable given all the other evidence. Thank goodness there are plenty of other valid sources willing to call a puppet a puppet when they see a puppet.

PutinTrump.org has compiled the following timeline of documented ties demonstrating Trump’s connections with Russia stretching back 30 years. The timeline also includes more recent disclosures that point to an ongoing relationship. These connections are the other side of Russia’s affiliation with Trump, which include Russia’s confirmed hacking and interference in the U.S. election on Trump’s behalf.

We continue to believe this is the most serious issue in a very serious election: The fact that one candidate and the United States’ leading adversary share a worldview, finances, staff, and an authoritarian approach appears to looks like what could be a dangerous alignment in power.

A review of the documented connections between Russia and Trump:

1986: Trump explores partnering with the Soviet government on real-estate development opportunities in Moscow. An excerpt from Trump’s memoir, The Art of the Deal:

“A prominent businessman who does a lot of business with the Soviet Union calls to keep me posted on a construction project I’m interested in undertaking in Moscow. The idea got off the ground after I sat next to the Soviet ambassador, Yuri Dubinin, at a luncheon. … One thing led to another and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government.”

1987: Trump travels to Russia to investigate luxury-hotel opportunities in person, but the developments never happened. From The Art of the Deal:

“We toured half a dozen potential sites for a hotel, including several near Red Square. We stayed in Lenin’s suite at the National Hotel, and I was impressed with the ambition of the Soviet officials to make a deal.”

1997: Trump tries to get an enormous statue of Christopher Columbus placed on the Hudson River – a gift he claimed was from the Russian government. The statue ended up in Puerto Rico after several U.S. cities rejected it, according to the Financial Times (paywall).

2007: Donald Trump praises Putin in a conversation with Larry King on CNN: “Look at Putin – what he’s doing with Russia – I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done – whether you like him or don’t like him – he’s doing a great job. In rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period. Forget about image.”

2008: Donald Trump Jr. brags about the Trump empire’s business dealings with Russian investors in a speech at a real-estate conference: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”  In the speech, Trump Jr.  revealed that he had traveled to Russia six times in the previous 18 months. But, he said, Russia presented enormous challenges. “As much as we want to take our business over there, Russia is just a different world. It is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who. . . . It really is a scary place.”

2008: Trump licenses his name to a group that includes Russian investors to develop the Trump Soho hotel in New York. Part of the group includes Bayrock, a developer with deep ties in the former Soviet Union, reports The Financial Times (paywall). An ABC News investigation found court filings showing that a partner in Trump Soho recruited financing from investors in Russia and Kazakhstan. During a meeting assembled to boost interest in the property in Russia, Trump was quoted telling Russian journalists: “I really like Vladimir Putin. I respect him. He does his work well. Much better than our Bush.”

2008: Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev buys Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for $95 million. Trump had purchased the property just four years earlier for $41 million.

2013: Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant is staged in Moscow. Trump earned a cut of the profits when a Russian oligarch paid to host the pageant, ABC News found. At the time, Trump tweeted a personal invitation to Putin to attend, and afterward bragged about hobnobbing with Russia’s elite: “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room,” Trump told Real Estate Weekly.

2013: Trump Toronto opens, with the backing of Russian-born investors. Less than four years later – just this week – the bankrupt venture was placed in receivership.

2016, throughout the presidential campaign: From January until the election, whenever he is questioned about his ties to Russia, Trump repeatedly makes favorable comments about Putin. He also repeatedly says nobody knows who hacked into the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails, although intelligence officials have confirmed that it was Russia and have even briefed Trump on that fact. This deliberate effort to constantly excuse and extol Russia worries U.S. allies.

July 2016: Trump encourages Russian hackers to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

August 2016: Campaign manager Paul Manafort quits amid controversy over his work for the pro-Putin former president of Ukraine, and because the New York Times reports that he made $12.5 million working for the former Ukraine government ousted by popular uprising.

September-October 2016: Politico magazine reports that Carter Page, an American businessman cited by Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers, had financial ties to Russia and had recently visited Moscow. In October, Yahoo News reported that US intelligence officials were probing the links between Page and senior Russian officials. (Page has called accusations against him “garbage.”)

October 31, 2016: Under the headline, “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump,” Mother Jones reports on a memo from the former spy that states: “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” The memo maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.” It also reported that Russian intelligence had compiled a dossier on Hillary Clinton based on “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls.”

October 31, 2016: A report in Slate focuses on an alleged covert communication channel between the Trump Organization, Trump’s business fiefdom, and Alfa Bank, a Russian institution with ties to the Russian oligarchy and Putin. The story is complex and often difficult to understand, based on arcane analysis of even more obscure data, but it suggests there could be an elaborate back channel that showed spikes in activity right around key moments in the election, but was quickly closed when reporters began making inquiries into it.

November 1, 2016, NBC News reports that the FBI has mounted a preliminary inquiry into the foreign business ties of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chief.

Sources noted inline. Key references include ABC News, Slate, The Washington Post, The Financial Times (paywall)

(Photos: Wikimedia)

Making the case to conservatives to vote Clinton

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It’s decision time – time to stop talking and start voting. Prominent conservatives around the country may admit that they wish for a viable third option, but their concerns about national security – and their belief that Republican Donald Trump is a threat to American democracy – are driving them to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton.

Here are a few notable conservatives – and two liberal columnists speaking directly to conservative voters – explaining why they believe Clinton is the right choice for president on Nov. 8.

DAVID FRUM, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a senior editor at The Atlantic:

“Yes, I fear Clinton’s grudge-holding. Should I fear it so much that I rally to a candidate who has already explicitly promised to deploy antitrust and libel law against his critics and opponents? Who incited violence at his rallies? Who ejects reporters from his events if he objects to their coverage? Who told a huge audience in Australia that his top life advice was: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it”? Who idealizes Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, and the butchers of Tiananmen as strong leaders to be admired and emulated? …

I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. I expect policies that will seem to me at best counter-productive, at worst actively harmful. …

But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. …”

Read “The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton” (The Atlantic)

DOROTHY RABINOVITZ, member of Wall Street Journal editorial board:

“The end of the election is now in sight. Some among the anti-Hillary brigades have decided, in deference to their exquisite sensibilities, to stay at home on Election Day, rather than vote for Mrs. Clinton. But most Americans will soon make their choice. It will be either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton – experienced, forward-looking, indomitably determined and eminently sane. Her election alone is what stands between the American nation and the reign of the most unstable, proudly uninformed, psychologically unfit president ever to enter the White House.”

Read “Hillary-Hatred Derangement Syndrome” (Wall Street Journal, paywall)

THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC EDITORIAL BOARD, which had never endorsed a Democrat for president in its 126-year history:

“… Despite her flaws, Clinton is the superior choice.

She does not casually say things that embolden our adversaries and frighten our allies. Her approach to governance is mature, confident and rational.

That cannot be said of her opponent.

Clinton retains her composure under pressure. She’s tough. She doesn’t back down.

Trump responds to criticism with the petulance of verbal spit wads.

That’s beneath our national dignity.”

Read The Arizona Republic’s endorsement, “Hillary Clinton is the only choice to move America ahead”

JAMES K. GLASSMAN, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs under President George W. Bush:

“I have voted for every Republican nominee for president since 1980, but I will not this time. Mr. Trump’s appalling temperament renders him unfit to be president, and his grotesque policy formulations mock the principles of liberty and respect for the individual that have been the foundation of the Republican Party since Abraham Lincoln. …

I’m voting for Mrs. Clinton because, despite her deficiencies, she will make a better president. But I have another reason. Defeating Mr. Trump soundly will help save the Republican Party. If he wins, a party built on freedom and internationalism will become entrenched as a party of authoritarianism and isolation, which means that within a few years it will atrophy and die.”

Read “Save the Republican Party: Vote for Clinton” (The New York Times)

JOHN STUBBS, senior advisor for U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush:

“Republicans can either allow Trump to rebrand the GOP as unstable, xenophobic and crude, or they can regain control of their party. It may mean losing this election, but if they want a principled, rational agenda that reflects American values and promotes liberty, prosperity and security, there is no other choice: Writing in or staying home puts Republican control of the Senate at risk, and a libertarian protest vote could toss the election to Trump.

The last remaining option is an extreme option: Vote for Hillary Clinton. If the millions of #NeverTrump Republicans could bring themselves to make the leap to Clinton, she may even meet them in the middle.”

Read “Why Republicans should vote for Hillary Clinton” (The Washington Post)

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, columnist for The New York Times:

“Yes, Hillary Clinton is a flawed leader — but in the way so many presidents were. We know her flaws: She has a weakness for secrecy, occasionally fudges truths, has fawning aides and a husband who lacks discipline when it comes to moneymaking and women. But she is not indecent, and that is an important distinction. And she’s studious, has sought out people of substance on every issue and has taken the job of running for president seriously.

Trump is not only a flawed politician, he’s an indecent human being. He’s boasted of assaulting women — prompting 11 to come forward to testify that he did just that to them; his defense is that he could not have assaulted these women because they weren’t pretty enough. …

I understand why many Trump supporters have lost faith in Washington and want to just “shake things up.” When you shake things up with a studied plan and a clear idea of where you want to get to, you can open new futures. But when you shake things up, guided by one-liners and no moral compass, you can cause enormous instability and systemic vertigo.”

Read “Donald Trump voters, just hear me out” (The New York Times)

TIMOTHY EGAN, opinion writer for The New York Times:

“Vice President Joe Biden has made it one of his final missions to ensure that Democrats don’t forget those living in places like his hometown, Scranton, Pa. One solution is to put people to work on roads, bridges, airports and other “big stuff.” Hillary Clinton has at least put forth a $275 billion infrastructure jobs plan. Trump promises nothing more than a slogan on a silly hat and a pipe dream of a plan with no way to pay for it.”

Read “A final plea to Trump’s America” (The New York Times)

(Photo by Lorie Shaull)

Voter registries at risk of cyberattack, experts say

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In light of last month’s large-scale cyberattck on internet infrastructure – as well as previous DNC email hacking that U.S. intelligence officials believe to be instigated by Russia – two top election technology experts are warning about the potential for further disruption on Election Day. Specifically, they call for election officials to have back-up voter registration documentation in paper form ready on Nov. 8. Their warnings came in interviews with PutinTrump.org, and are expected to be repeated during a teleconference with media representatives today, a week before the election.

“The most vulnerable part of the entire election system is the threat to voter registration databases,” according to Candice Hoke, Marshall College of Law professor and a widely recognized national authority on laws governing election technologies, including voting devices and voter registration databases. Hoke said another internet disruption, such as the dedicated denial of service attack (DDOS) that occurred on Oct. 21, could eliminate voter names from any registry in a specific precinct, preventing those voters from casting their ballots normally or forcing them to use provisional ballots.

“Have a back-up plan. Don’t rely on the internet or local laptops for running the election,” Professor Douglas W. Jones, said in discussing the vulnerability of elections at the local and state level. Jones agrees there are real possibilities for serious disruption if hackers target centralized voter-registration databases. Such targeting might have already happened, Jones said, but there is no way to know about it in advance or to prove it. On a widespread scale, he added, the potential effects could be “destabilizing the government or delegitimizing the presidency,” although he doesn’t think such targeting would change the outcome of the election.

An attack on voter-registration databases, Jones said, could drastically slow down voting, lead to much longer lines for voters, and require provisional ballots that may or may not be counted.  Jones is a computer scientist at the University of Iowa where his research focuses primarily on computer security, particularly electronic voting. Together with Barbara Simons, another election expert on electronic voting, Jones has co-authored a book entitled Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?

Both Hoke and Jones also say hackers may be able to target election software while it is being updated, which could lead to vote “flipping” – causing the tally for one candidate to suddenly becomes the vote total being counted for another candidate under the direction of pirate software. There is no way to prove such a flip took place without a paper trail, which many voting locations no longer have.

Jones believes Russia has both the motivation and capability to disrupt the American election by creating chaos through disrupting the internet or with email leaks via WikiLeaks – allowing them to inject their own partisanship, weighing in on one side of the election. However, he said, it takes many weeks of computer forensics to prove that they are the culprits.

According to a report on CNN quoting the Department of Homeland Security, 46 states have asked DHS for assistance to bolster their election systems against cyber threats. “As rhetoric has swirled that next week’s election could be ‘rigged,’ and as the U.S. government has publicly accused the Russian government of meddling in the election by hacking Democratic political groups, concerns about attempted cyberattacks on election infrastructure have increased,” the CNN report said. Despite the charges of “rigging” the election, most experts believe it would be extremely difficult to alter or affect the outcome of national elections.

Former Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov does not believe the American election will be rigged the way the Russia’s Vladimir Putin rigs that country’s election. But Kasparov does believe the Russians may seek to disrupt the U.S. election, just as they hacked into the email systems of the Democratic National Committee, in an effort to discredit American democracy. He believes the DDOS cyberattack last month might have been a dress rehearsal for Election Day.

Kasparov will be a third panelist on the Tuesday teleconference. He is chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and author of Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.

Professor Candice Hoke founded and directed the Center for Election Integrity, and served three terms on the American Bar Association’s Advisory Commission on Election Law.  Professor Douglas W. Jones has testified before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the United States House Committee on Science and the Federal Election Commission on voting issues. Jones was the technical advisor for HBO’s documentary on electronic voting machine issues, Hacking Democracy.

Additional sources noted inline. Photo via Creative Commons

Related reading: “Issues and recommendations for Making Elections More Secure” by Barbara Simons, David Jefferson, Philip B. Stark

What to do to guard against Election Day cyberattacks

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Top election-security experts are urging election officials to put contingency plans into place at polling stations in case critical systems are disrupted during voting on Nov. 8. Their warnings come one week before Election Day, at the end of a presidential race that has seen charges of politically motivated email hacking by Russia as well as a widespread internet outage of unknown origin.

In a teleconference panel Tuesday, Professors Candice Hoke and Douglas W. Jones, authorities in election technology, emphasized that voter-registration databases are most vulnerable to a possible cyberattack, and they encouraged election officials – and even voters – to take precautions.

Their deepest concern was echoed by the third member of the panel – human-rights activist, author and former chess champion Garry Kasparov: Even a small disruption to systems on Election Day could sow doubt in the election results and undermine the authority of a newly elected president. “It does not require massive disruption to create that cloud of uncertainty,” Hoke said. “A few technical events can add to doubt.”

With Russia clearly demonstrating an intent to interfere in U.S. politics in the hack of Democratic National Committee emails, all three panelists worry that whoever wins this presidential election, the real loss will come in Americans’ faith in their democratic systems. “Imagine people who will not be able to have their votes because the voter registration database was hacked,” Kasparov said. “That will create enough doubt about the U.S. elections and democracy as an institution.”

Tuesday’s panel was moderated by Bill Buzenberg, Editorial Director of PutinTrump.org.

Long-term, Hoke and Jones stressed that nationwide election infrastructure should be shored up as part of identifying elections as a key part of U.S. national security. But with one week to go until the election, these are their recommendations for what can be done right now.

What state and local elections officials can do:

  • Have paper records as back-ups for electronic voter-registration databases (so-called e-poll-books). Hoke notes that these databases are vulnerable because the software is easily manipulated. And she points out that a number of precincts, especially in major urban areas, now use electronic poll-books to access their registration databases, and those poll-books require constant access to the internet and so would be inaccessible in the event of a direct denial of service attack, as occurred Oct. 21.  “Those locations that are using e-poll-books: They need to have a paper backup of every database in every location in case their e-poll-books happen to be down for whatever reason.”
  • Have a contingency plan for what to do if systems go down at a polling station. “The DDOS attack [Oct. 21] may not have been related to the election, but if I were Russia and I wanted to test my weapon in the election, that’s what my weapons test would look like,” Jones said. “Local elections officials need well-defined fallback plans for pollbook failures,” Jones said, and he noted that this could be as low-tech as having a blank sheet of paper where every voter can sign in and write down their addresses. He acknowledges that’s a tremendous amount of work for both poll-workers and voters, creating long lines and slow voting. “But turning away a voter from a polling place simply because the hardware is messed up – that’s just a violation of a fundamental principle of democracy that says you don’t turn away voters.”
  • States should have security experts assess their system’s vulnerabilities before Election Day, and consider hiring electronic security experts to be on hand for quick action if a disruption is reported. “Retain forensic security teams around the state ready to go into action if there are questions or incidents so they can be investigated immediately and proof can be obtained,” Hoke said. “We should have forensics teams ready to go on Election Day.”

What voters can do:

  • Voters should double-check their voter registration online before Election Day to be sure the precinct’s recorded information is correct. “Every state has an online voter-registration checking portal and there are some national portals available through the League of Women Voters and the Verified Voting Foundation,” Jones said.
  • Voters should take official identification to their polling places, even if it’s not required by law. If the electronic records indicate that a voter’s precinct is different or the registration is missing, an ID would be required to cast a provisional ballot or for same-day registration. “Having it there in case there’s a mess-up is important,” Jones said.
  • If at all possible, voters should take advantage of early voting opportunities. “Encourage as many voters as possible to use early voting opportunities,” Hoke said. “If systems should go down … on Election Day, there are no alternatives. That’s the best contingency.”

The panelists urged states and voters to take these last-minute precautions seriously because they believe that the integrity of the vote and American democracy is at stake in this election.

Kasparov: “My greatest fear is that the election would not be considered valid by tens of millions of Americans because there would be so much doubt and uncertainty, and whoever wins will not be a legitimate president in the eyes of half of the country.”

Jones’ greatest fear:  “There will be a cloud of uncertainty caused by a mix of conspiracy theories from left and right and allegations of Russian involvement, and that mixture will create really entrenched distrust and entrenched unwillingness to accept the outcome, whatever the outcome is.”

Hoke: Since I’m located in Ohio … Close election totals are bad enough. Then, just a few incidents or technical events can further add to questions and doubt.”

Listen to the audio of the full teleconference

Related analysis on PutinTrump.org: Voter registries at risk of cyberattacks, experts say

(Photo via Creative Commons)

Donald Trump’s ‘firehose of falsehoods’

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“I like to deny things.”

Republican Donald Trump admitted this at a campaign rally last Friday, flaunting his well-documented strategy of saying something one day and denying he ever said it the next – and leaving news media fact-checkers scrambling in a never-ending game of catch-up to set the record straight.

In these last weeks before Election Day, Trump has received the most headlines for denying that he ever sexually assaulted women despite bragging about exactly that on an Access Hollywood video. But in the same time period, he also denied that he ever called climate change a “hoax,” even though he did so in many direct tweets over several years. He’s repeatedly denied he ever backed the Iraq War, even though he’s recorded on a Howard Stern show supporting it. And in all three presidential debates, when asked about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said “I don’t know Putin” – even though in 2013 he told MSNBC: “I do have a relationship [with Putin], and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I am saying today.”

But Trump doesn’t just deny his own words; he also routinely denies statements made by U.S. officials. For example, national intelligence leaders have said that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee emails in an effort to interfere in the election, but Trump has refused to acknowledge this. In the second debate, he said, “Maybe there is no hacking.” And in the final debate, he said: “[Hillary Clinton] has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else. … And our country has no idea.” The Director of National Intelligence the next day repeated his agencies’ previous statements, forced into the position of denying Trump’s denial.

Trump even goes so far as to deny simple facts. In July on ABC’s “This Week,” when George Stephanopoulos asked Trump about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea – an act Putin has called justified because the “territory itself is strategically important” – Trump said: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.”

Trump’s campaign strategy is strikingly similar to Putin’s own propaganda model, which a June RAND report dubbed a “firehose of falsehood.” From the RAND report:

“We characterize the contemporary Russian model for propaganda as “the firehose of falsehood” because of two of its distinctive features: high numbers of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions. In the words of one observer, “[N]ew Russian propaganda entertains, confuses and overwhelms the audience.”

Contemporary Russian propaganda has at least two other distinctive features. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency.”

The “firehood of falsehood” technique that the Rand study attributes to Russia is precisely the method adopted by Trump. Once a falsehood is stated by Trump, whether on Twitter or at a rally, Media Matters notes that it quickly spreads through media outlets worried about getting beat on a story:

“Credible mainstream American outlets and journalists, perhaps concerned “they will be labeled ‘biased,’” as claims John A. Tures, adopt stories that often are cultivated in the right-wing echo chamber and given life by Trump. After Clinton’s September pneumonia diagnoses, several mainstream outlets went all-in on hyping how “talk of Clinton’s health [is] no longer just the stuff of conspiracy theorists.” Media outlets have time and time and time again parroted right-wing pseudo-scandals about Clinton’s use of a private email server and about the Clinton Foundation (stories that were also hyped by right-wing outlets like Drudge and Fox News).”

When disinformation is repeated, even when it’s later shown to be false, the result is a cynical American public that doesn’t know what to believe. Media Matters adds:

“Trump and right-wing media have ushered in an era of post-truth politics where voters have ‘been successfully persuaded that everything is a lie, so the only political choice you have is to select the fiction that most fits your self-conception,’ as explained by journalist Ned Resnikoff.”

The most disturbing place where these “post-truth politics” are playing out now is in Trump’s denial in the integrity of the U.S. election process, which he repeatedly calls “rigged.” His claims that dead people and non-citizens are used to commit voter fraud have been repeatedly debunked, but that doesn’t stop him from saying them again and again. And these statements are duly reported by the media again and again.

Trump’s denigration of the election process could have the effects of raising tensions at polling places, preventing a peaceful transition of power to the next president or weakening the next president’s authority to work with other leaders at home and around the world – all threats to the core values of the American democratic system.

And that may be exactly what Trump and his political idol Putin are hoping for. As The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson wrote:

“After all, if Putin can convince Americans that liberal democracy is nothing but a sham, he will accomplish what no leader of the Soviet Union ever could. Decades after we thought it was over, Russia will have finally won the Cold War.”

Sources noted inline and include: Politico, Politifact, The Washington Post, CNN, UCSB The American Presidency Project, MSNBC, The New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, World Affairs Journal, RAND Corporation, Media Matters for America, FactCheck.org, The Federalist

(Photo of Donald Trump at June 18 rally in Arizona by Gage Skidmore)

Trump stance on Russia an instant disqualifier

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BY BILL BUZENBERG AND GARRY KASPAROV

First published in Quartz

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has built his candidacy on flouting the rules of the political establishment and, increasingly, measures of basic human decency. He has called for preposterous domestic policies, flagrantly lied to voters, and insulted women and minorities. Yet one of the greatest threats his candidacy poses is in the realm of foreign policy. His words and actions so far underline how dangerous a Trump presidency would be for America, and the world.

Trump has had every opportunity to criticize Russia’s unprecedented cyber interference undermining the integrity of the American election. He has never done so.

Trump has had every opportunity to walk back his warm words and rhetorical embrace of Russia’s strongman leader, Vladimir Putin. He has never done so.

Trump has had every opportunity to release his taxes and show that he is not financially in hoc to Russian oligarchs who are believed to have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in his developments. He has never done so.

Trump has had every opportunity to support Western sanctions against Russia for its blatant military takeover and annexation of Crimea, and then for its continued incitement of war in eastern Ukraine. He has never done so.

Trump has had every opportunity to say he believes wholeheartedly in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and its charter that commits each signatory to come to the aid of any NATO member when attacked, such as the vulnerable Baltic states experiencing renewed Russian saber rattling.  He has never done so.

And Trump has had every opportunity to denounce Russia’s ceasefire violations in Syria and possible war crimes from its bombing of civilians in Aleppo on behalf of the Assad regime. He has never done so.

In fact, in each of these instances, Trump has specifically avoided taking positions in line with long-standing American foreign policies, even repudiating traditional GOP stances, including those articulated forcefully against Russia by his running mate, Mike Pence. “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree,” Trump said in the second debate referring to the stand Pence had taken.

Instead, in every case, Trump has aligned himself with a hostile foreign power and indeed espoused policies that further Putin’s clandestine geopolitical agenda. It is the only consistent element in his rhetoric, which is otherwise filled with contradictions and flip-flops.

Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, his threat to jail his political opponent, and his racist, misogynistic and xenophobic campaign are all reasons not to vote for the Republican nominee. But what the Republican candidate is saying – and just as importantly not saying – about America’s foremost foreign adversary is arguably the most serious issue in this election. It ought to be alarming to every student of history, citizen soldier, and American patriot who believes in the idea of a strong and independent United States. Though imperfect and divided at home, the U.S. is, and must remain, a moral force for decency and the rule of law in a troubled world.

Trump would jettison all of that, seemingly without a considered thought, all on behalf of someone who says nice things about him.  Words do matter, and Trump is disconnected from basic mainstream American foreign policy in ways that no candidate for president has ever been before.

And it must be noted that puppet-master Putin – the man Trump thinks is a great role model – has consolidated his power by steering his country into a dictatorial ditch using massive misinformation, a crackdown on independent media and free speech, prison or murder for his political enemies and journalists, restrictions on ethnic minorities and LGBT communities, among other domestic policies, let alone foreign policies that all Americans abhor.

If Trump now tries to change his tune and contradict his oft-repeated statements about sanctions against Russia, the war in Syria, or NATO’s future, it is hard to see how any such last-minute conversion in the waning days of the campaign could ever be believed. It is more likely he will go into the election adhering to a pro-Putin stance that is completely at odds with America’s core values and status as leader of the free world.

Trump has had plenty of chances to correct his course and to re-set his un-American – even anti-American – line.  His refusal to do so speaks volumes about the direction he would take this country if elected.

Journalist Bill Buzenberg (@NoPutinTrump) is editorial director of www.putintrump.org and former head of the Center for Public Integrity and NPR News.

Former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov is chairman of the Human Rights Foundation (@Kasparov63) and author of “Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.

Kasparov believes Trump may expect Election Day hacking

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Last Friday’s massive online attack that caused widespread internet outages for companies such as Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times, made Garry Kasparov angry. Although investigators haven’t said publicly who they think instigated the attack, Kasparov, the former Soviet chess champion and critic of Vladimir Putin, believes the Russians may be behind the latest sophisticated cyber assault.

“This was just a general rehearsal for Election Day,” he warned in an interview with PutinTrump.org. “They want to see what they can do to cause panic and confusion around vote counting on Election Day.”

Kasparov said that an attack of this scale requires a giant state actor with the necessary resources behind it to carry off such an assault on the internet’s infrastructure. That state actor, he believes, is Russia.

More ominously, Kasparov believes there is at least a “50-50 chance” that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump knows in advance about a coming Russian online assault on Election Day. Although he doesn’t have proof, Kasparov believes that is why Trump made his remarkable statement during the third presidential debate: that he won’t commit to accepting the results of the election if he believes it was rigged against him. His refusal to accept the results could sew confusion on Election Night and cast doubt on the integrity of American democracy, which is precisely what Kasparov says the Russians want to do.

As technology site Slash Gear and others have reported, “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are apparently both investigating, in fact, though no official indication has been given as to potential actors. Neither organization has made a statement on the investigation yet.”

Kasparov is troubled by Trump’s consistent support for Putin. Trump has never backed away from his favorable statements about Putin, despite the urging of many Republican office holders. Nor has Trump ever acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials have said the Russians are behind the email hacking of the Democrats, with the resulting stolen emails later released in a steady stream by WikiLeaks.

Kasparov says he follows Russian news carefully, and so far, “Trump has faithfully followed Putin’s propaganda line.” For example, Trump’s disparaging comments about a rigged U.S. election offers Putin a “golden opportunity to spread rumors and confusion about the American election,” Kasparov says – and a besmirched American democracy in the eyes of the world would be a Russian success.

Kasparov speculates that Trump’s questioning the election might be part of a plan where the Russians are able to hack the results and otherwise disrupt Election Day vote-counting in many states – giving Trump the excuse he needs to refuse to accept the results of the voting. Even an attack on the American electrical grid with widespread power outages would result in the potential for confusion and doubt about voting and vote counting, Kasparov says, giving Trump a reason to assert the election results are not valid. And if Trump does not concede, against the tradition of all previous losing presidential candidates, Trump could make the winner look less legitimate and himself seemingly a victim of a stolen election.

As security expert Ryan Duff said in Newsweek last week, it doesn’t take much of a hack to sow doubt: “You only need to mess it up a little bit, and as soon as people don’t have faith in it, the whole system can start to crumble,” said Duff, a former U.S. Air Force tactician now working in the private sector. “You don’t even need to sway it one way. You just have to make people think it could happen.”

Kasparov points to recent Kremlin practice of interfering in European political life by supporting ultra-nationalists and radical left-wing groups around elections, and also buying favors from mainstream European politicians. A chance to discredit American democracy would be a big win for Putin, and last Friday’s online dress rehearsal shows what can be done.

Kasparov acknowledges he has no proof of the collusion between Putin and Trump for an Election Day disruption, but he says: “It is better to warn people now about what is about to happen, than to keep silent and be sorry later on November 9 that there was massive Election Day hacking. … This threat is too high to ignore.”

Sources:  The New York Times, Politico, Slash Gear, CNN, The Washington Post

(Photo courtesy Garry Kasparov)

Trump still denies Russian hacking; labeled Putin ‘puppet’

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The third presidential debate featured the expected fireworks between the candidates – and Republican Donald Trump repeated his claim several times that “I don’t know Putin,” despite his previous statements bragging about a relationship with the Russian strongman.

But the most extraordinary moments came when moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace pressed Trump for specific answers on two critical issues around national security and democracy: the interference of the Russian government in the U.S, presidential election and Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting this year’s election results.

Russian interference in the election:

Democrat Hillary Clinton said this question might be the most important one in the debate. She raised the issue first when Wallace read a quote from one of her speeches on border security – a quote that came from hacked Democratic National Committee emails that have been released by WikiLeaks. In the debate, Clinton used the opening to denounce interference by a foreign power in the presidential election: “What’s really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions.”

A heated exchange followed – which included Clinton claiming Trump would be Putin’s “puppet as president” and Trump firing back, “You’re the puppet!” But throughout, Trump again refused to acknowledge that U.S. government officials have accused the Russian government of orchestrating the hacking attacks – repeating a stance he made in the second debate. Trump on Wednesday night: “She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else. … And our country has no idea.”

Wallace, to his credit, set the record straight: “The top national security officials of this country do believe that Russia has been behind these hacks.” And he pressed the point with Trump: “Even if you don’t know for sure whether they are, do you condemn any interference by Russia in the American election?”

Trump still refused to say that Russia is behind the hacks – but he did say he would condemn interference “by Russia or anybody else.” And then for good measure, he repeated: “I don’t know Putin.”

Undermining American democracy:

With all of Trump’s talk over recent weeks claiming that the election is rigged, Wallace reminded the Republican that both his running mate Mike Pence and his daughter Ivanka had said this week that Trump  “will absolutely accept the result of this election.”

Wallace: “Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely – sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”

Trump: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time.”

Wallace: “But, sir, there is a tradition in this country – in fact, one of the prides of this country – is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”

Trump’s response was like a cliffhanger from one of his reality shows: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”  It was a remark that critics charge undermines American democracy.

After the debate, world chess champion and Putin critic Garry Kasparov tweeted: “Trump refusing to accept election results & his loyalty to Putin are the same plan to weaken US. He’s Putin’s stooge.”

Once again, Trump was given the opportunity to name Russia as interfering in the American election, and to criticize Putin, and he declined to do so. And he was given a chance to say that he fully supports U.S. democracy no matter who wins, and he failed to do so. At this late point in the 2016 campaign, both of these remarkable statements have to be considered deeply held positions taken by Trump in the face of the evidence against Russia and against the history of 44 peaceful presidential transitions throughout American history. By taking these stands, Trump is once again rejecting values held across the American political spectrum.

Sources noted inline, and also include the Washington Post debate transcript

Putin and Trump: The strongman and the wanna-be

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Republican Donald Trump made headlines in the last presidential debate when he ominously declared that Democrat Hillary Clinton would “be in jail” if he’s elected to the presidency. Threats to a political opponent are more typically issued by dictators that American politicians condemn – but Trump’s words really aren’t a surprise.

For years, Trump has openly admired Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who has steadily ramped up his dictatorial tactics against opponents within Russia, as well as his aggression against neighboring countries. If we compare Putin’s record and Trump’s words, it’s striking how much the two seem to think alike on issues that are critical to American democracy and national security.

THE PUBLIC’S ACCESS TO INFORMATION

The strongman:

Putin has called the internet a “CIA project” and the Russian government has passed several laws that limit the public’s access to information online. One law allows the government to block access to any site without a court order and has been used to suppress websites critical of Putin and his annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

In shutting off access to political opponents’ websites, the state regulatory agency Roskomnadzo said: “These sites contain incitement to illegal activity and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.”

The wanna-be:

Trump has said he would be in favor of closing “parts of the Internet,” as a way to fight terrorism:

“We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.”

This is the tactic of closed nations like North Korea, which shuts off access entirely outside its borders, and controlling nations like China, which limits access to social media networks and some websites. It is not a strategy to be embraced by a nation that secured the rights to free speech and a free press – and thus, information – in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Democracies around the world join the United States in policies of open access to information; several go so far as to explicitly call access to the Internet a basic human right.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

The strongman:

Under Putin’s rule, the government has raided the offices of private media companies and had a hand in firing journalists who published stories critical of the Russian leader. Some critical journalists have even ended up dead.

At least 34 journalists have been murdered while Putin has been in power. While he hasn’t been tied directly to any of their deaths, Politifact quotes Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists as saying that journalists covering corruption, human rights abuses, organized crime, and official wrongdoing can be “slain with impunity in Putin’s Russia.”

“Their killers are emboldened to act by an administration that marginalizes them, isolates them, and downplays their role in society.”

The wanna-be:

Trump said in February that he plans to target news media organizations through changing libel laws:

“We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

Trump’s attacks on the media have increased in recent weeks since The New York Times published pages from his 1995 tax returns and reported accounts from women who claim Trump sexually assaulted them, and the Washington Post reported on an Access Hollywood video that included Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Under current libel law, “Donald Trump is pretty much libel-proof,” said First Amendment expert Ken Paulson in the Wall Street Journal (paywall). From the Law Blog:

“That’s because libel law sets much higher standards of proof for plaintiffs who are famous people or public officials. When it comes to defamation litigation, public figures like Mr. Trump have to establish that not only a statement was false and defamatory, but also published with actual malice.”

But Trump doesn’t just want to punish media for the publishing of stories he doesn’t like. He has also restricted access to journalists trying to report on him. Several news organizations were denied access to Trump events over the summer, including The Washington Post.

THE DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN

The strongman:

Putin has propelled the Russian propaganda machine into high gear since Russia’s 2008 incursion into the former Soviet state of Georgia, according to a June 2016 report by the RAND Corporation:

“The country has effectively employed new dissemination channels and messages in support of its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, its ongoing involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and its antagonism of NATO allies. The Russian propaganda model is high-volume and multichannel, and it disseminates messages without regard for the truth. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency. Although these techniques would seem to run counter to the received wisdom for successful information campaigns, research in psychology supports many of the most successful aspects of the model. Furthermore, the very factors that make the firehose of falsehood effective also make it difficult to counter. Traditional counterpropaganda approaches will likely be inadequate in this context.”

The wanna-be:

Trump has also adopted a “firehose of falsehood” approach in his speeches, interviews and debates, at times overwhelming fact-checking journalists. He tends to spew a mix of lies, half-truths and opinions in a steady stream, and he repeats falsehoods over and over. For example, Trump pushed the racist birther movement for years until finally acknowledging in September that President Obama was born in the United States (five years after Obama produced his long-form U.S. birth certificate). And then Trump falsely claimed that the birther movement had started in Clinton’s campaign. More recently, he has denied U.S. intelligence claims that Russia is behind the hacks into the Democratic National Committee – and he has even claimed that the presidential election is rigged, even though his own running mate Mike Pence disagrees.

All of these false statements are designed to undermine Americans’ confidence in their democracy – a strategy that the nonprofit Media Matters for America says is straight out of “the Kremlin’s propaganda playbook.”

FREEDOM OF RELIGION

The strongman:

In July 2016, Putin cited terrorism as the reason for a crackdown on evangelism outside churches. Newsweek reported the law restricts religious proselytizing, imposing hefty fines. The law exempts the Russian Orthodox Christian Church, but opponents point out that exemption only covers the Moscow Patriarchate, which critics say has been entangled with the government since Soviet times.

The president of the National Religious Broadcasters group, Dr. Jerry Johnson, said: “Following a pattern of other human rights abuses, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is criminalizing a central duty for all followers of Christ – sharing our faith. “

The wanna-be:

In November 2015, after the Paris terrorist attack, on Sean Hannity’s show Fox Business, Trump advocated closing mosques in the United States.

“Nobody wants to say this and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions or anything, but you know, you understand it. A lot of people understand it. We’re going to have no choice.”

TARGETING POLITICAL OPPONENTS

The strongman:

In just one example, Putin kept political opponent and Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in prison for 10 years before releasing him for apparent humanitarian reasons in 2013. Khodorkovsky, who now lives in Switzerland, became politically active again last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Russian government responded by issuing an international arrest warrant for Khodorkovsky for the 1998 murder of a Siberian mayor.

The wanna-be:

Trump made it clear in the last debate that Clinton would be prosecuted and in jail if he wins the election, words that echoed chants from his political rallies and the Republican convention to “Lock her up!”

RUSSIAN AGGRESSION

The strongman:

Putin has insisted that the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea was righting a Soviet-era wrong: “Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people.”

Since annexing Crimea, which the West has refused to recognize, Russia has fostered a pro-Russia rebellion in eastern Ukraine, keeping the former Soviet republic unstable.

The wanna-be:

Trump revealed his ignorance about Russian aggression in July in an exchange with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

“He’s not going into Ukraine, O.K., just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”

“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Mr. Stephanopoulos interrupted.

“O.K., well, he’s there in a certain way,” Mr. Trump replied. “But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He take — takes Crimea.”

Trump’s campaign went so far as to rewrite the Republican Party’s platform to soften its official position on Ukraine.

CULT OF PERSONALITY

Finally, Trump has followed Putin’s lead in celebrating the strength of authoritarian values and powers. Gideon Rachman in The Financial Times (paywall) points out the similarities between Putin and Trump, as well as with other dictators around the world:

“All these men have promised to lead a national revival through the force of their personalities and their willingness to ignore liberal niceties. In many cases, the promise of decisive leadership is backed up by a willingness – sometimes explicit, sometimes implied – to use illegal violence against enemies of the state …”

And Rachman warns:

“The alarming truth is that the impact of strongman leaders is rarely confined within national borders. All too often, the undercurrent of violence that they introduce into domestic politics spills over onto the international stage.”

Up next: PutinTrump.org will be watching the final presidential debate Wednesday night and responding when the candidates address the critical national security issues that we are watching closely. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest.

Sources noted inline, including CNN, Los Angeles Times, The NATO Association of Canada, The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, BBC News, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal (paywall), Newsweek, The Guardian, The Financial Times (paywall)

(Photos: Wikimedia)

The Money (Laundering) Trail: Trump’s shady investors

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“Dirty money: Trump and the Kazakh connection,” an investigation by the Financial Times of London (paywall), paints a dark picture of Donald Trump’s financial empire and his connections to possible money-laundering investments by shady families and businesses growing out of the former Soviet Union.

Because of his six Chapter 11 bankruptcies over the past 25 years, Trump has been seeking partners willing to fund his developments. The Financial Times investigation found evidence that one Trump venture involving multimillion-dollar apartments in Trump Soho had “multiple ties to an alleged international money laundering network.”

Trump Soho was developed by the Sapir Organisation, founded by Tamir Sapir, from Georgia, and Bayrock, founded by Tevfik Arif, a Kazakhstan-born former Soviet official. Trump was a third co-owner in the project and is said to have had an 18 percent share. According to the FT: “Bayrock has been associated with the family of Viktor Khrapunov, a former Kazakh energy minister and ex-mayor of the city of Almaty, and has been connected to an alleged laundering scheme at the same time as it was collaborating with Mr. Trump.”

The FT noted that in “a 2011 deposition, given in a dispute over [a similar] Fort Lauderdale project, Mr. Trump said he had ‘never really understood who owned Bayrock.’ ”

Bayrock has declined to answer questions about the source of its funds and its relationship with the Khrapunovs.  The FT went on to link two former Trump organization employees to both Bayrock and working director for the Khrapunovs.

Read the full investigation in the Financial Times (paywall)

Kasparov warns that Putin will always be a ‘scorpion’

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One of the strongest voices in the American media warning about the enigmatic collusion between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has been Garry Kasparov, a young Russian chess grandmaster who became World Chess Champion in 1985 at age 22.  He retired from chess competition in 2005 and has devoted himself to helping form a civil political opposition in Russia, even attempting to run for president against Putin in a bid that was blocked by official obstruction.

Kasparov is now a New York-based author and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. His most recent book is Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. The book recounts Russia’s descent back into dictatorship under Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel who became President of the Russian Federation in 1999. Kasparov is critical of Western democracies for not standing up to Russian aggression, while trying to appease a dictator who remains a potent threat to political liberty and the modern world order.

Below are three brief excepts from Winter is Coming, published by PublicAffairs,  followed by a link to a fuller excerpt, used by permission of the author:

As I have said for years, it is a waste of time to attempt to discern deep strategy in Mr. Putin’s actions. There are no complex national interests in his calculations. There are only personal interests, the interests of those close to him who keep him in power, and how best to consolidate that power. Without real elections or a free media, the only way a dictator can communicate with his subjects is through propaganda and the only way he can validate his power is with regular shows of force…

But blaming Putin for invading Ukraine — for annexing Crimea, for giving advanced surface-to-air missiles to separatists — is like blaming that proverbial scorpion for stinging the frog. It is expected. It is his nature. Instead of worrying about how to change the scorpion’s nature or, even worse, how best to appease it, we must focus on how the civilized world can contain the dangerous creature before more innocents die…

As always when it comes to stopping dictators, with every delay the price goes up. Western leaders have protested over the potential costs of action in Ukraine at every turn only to be faced with the well-established historical fact that the real costs of inaction are always even higher. Now the only options left are risky and difficult, and yet they must be tried. The best reason for acting to stop Putin today is brutally simple: it will only get harder tomorrow.

Excerpt from Chapter 10 of Winter is Coming.

(Photo courtesy Garry Kasparov)

Republicans’ national security reasons to #DumpTrump

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Their words reveal their anguish. “The Republican Party is another family to me.”  And “I’m an American before I’m a Republican.”  “I can’t look my children in the eye and tell them I voted for Donald Trump.” And finally: “This is not my party.”

They are lifelong Republicans – stalwart conservative leaders who have devoted their careers to the GOP. One after another, just a few to start, and now dozens. They have wrestled with their decisions and finally have declared they cannot vote for their party’s nominee. Some will vote for Hillary Clinton; others will look for a third-party or write-in option. But they have all stated publicly they will not cast votes for Trump.

Trump has given his party many reasons to abandon him – including his racist and misogynistic language, and now his crystal clear voice on an “Access Hollywood” videotape released last week.

But a long list of Republicans also are convinced that Trump is a grave national security risk – a concern heightened by his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his demonstrated ignorance about global-security threats such as Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and its military intervention on behalf of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Here are a few of these foreign-policy-minded conservatives, saying in their own words why they can’t vote for Trump:

Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush:

“The only way you can be comfortable about Trump’s foreign policy, is to think he doesn’t really mean anything he says. That’s a pretty uncomfortable place to be in. Our security depends on having good relationships with our allies. Trump mainly shows contempt for them. And he seems to be unconcerned about the Russian aggression in Ukraine. By doing this he tells them that they can go ahead and do what they are doing. That is dangerous.”

Source: Der Spiegel

Donald Gregg, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush:

“We now have a person at the top of the Republican ticket who I believe is dangerous, doesn’t understand the complex world we live in, doesn’t care to, and is without any moral or international philosophy.”

Source: Politico

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush:

“Trump’s sense of loyalties are misplaced. Some of our NATO allies sent troops overseas, at the same time he is defending Russia and trying to dismiss what is widely acknowledged to be Russian intrusions into the databases of our political parties and political figures.”

Source: Bloomberg

Retired Virginia Sen. John Warner, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and World War II veteran:

In response to some of Trump’s comments on the military: “We have today the strongest military in the world. No one can compare with us. No one should have the audacity to stand up and degrade the purple heart … or talk about the military being in a state of disaster. That’s wrong. … You don’t pull up a quick text, like ‘National Security for Dummies.’ That book hasn’t been published.”

Source: Politico

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina:

“I also cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump because I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as commander in chief.”

Source: The Hill

Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for president in 2012, former governor of Massachusetts:

”Donald Trump says he admires Vladimir Putin, while he has called George W. Bush a liar. That is a twisted example of evil trumping good.”

Source: Politico

“I wanted my grandkids to see that I simply couldn’t ignore what Mr. Trump was saying and doing, which revealed a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world.”

Source: Wall Street Journal (paywall)

Adam Kinzinger, Illinois representative and former Air Force pilot:

“I’m a Republican because I believe that Republicanism is the best way to defend the United States of America. … [Trump] throws all of these Republican principles on their head.”

Source: CNN

Response to Trump’s comments on NATO: “It’s utterly disastrous. And you have allies right now, I mean I have friends that, you know, serve in parliament in places like Estonia, that every day worry about the Russians deciding that this is the time to reannex and take them back. And comments like this are not only ill-informed, they’re dangerous.”

Response to Trump’s comments on the military: “I call it a narcissistic foreign policy from Donald Trump, and it’s the idea that, you know, the world needs us. If we’re going to be in Korea or we’re going to have troops in Germany, they need to pay us for this. As a military soldier, a pilot, I’m offended by the idea that I’m some kind of a protection racket that has to be paid to protect our allies, or I’m some kind of a mercenary force.”

Source: Politico

Robert Gates, CIA Director under President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama:

“The only thing longer than the list of hostile Russian actions abroad is the list of repressive actions inside Russia to stifle dissent and strengthen Mr. Putin’s security services-run state. Mr. Putin will continue to behave aggressively until confronted and stopped. … neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Trump has expressed any views on how they would deal with Mr. Putin (although Mr. Trump’s expressions of admiration for the man and his authoritarian regime are naive and irresponsible). …

At least on national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.”

Source: Wall Street Journal (paywall)

George Will: Conservative pundit for 40 years

Responding to Trump’s comments indicating he was apparently unaware of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “It is, surely, somewhat noteworthy that someone aspiring to be this nation’s commander in chief has somehow not noticed the fact that for two years now a sovereign European nation has been being dismembered.”

Source: The Washington Post

Excerpt from a letter signed by 50 Republican national-security advisers who served under administrations from Presidents Richard Nixon to George W. Bush.

“From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.

Most fundamentally, Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. …

In addition, Mr. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding of America’s vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances, and the democratic values on which U.S. foreign policy must be based. At the same time, he persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends.”

Source: The New York Times

Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations:

“I have been a Republican as long as I can remember. Joining the Grand Old Party seemed like a natural choice for someone like me who fled the Soviet Union as a boy and came to Los Angeles with his mother and grandmother in 1976. …

There has never been a major party nominee in U.S. history as unqualified for the presidency. The risk of Trump winning, however remote, represents the biggest national security threat that the United States faces today.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

Additional sources: The Atlantic, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times

(Photo: Creative Commons)

Round 2 and Trump’s denial: ‘I don’t know Putin’

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Republican Donald Trump admitted he has avoided paying taxes for many years, and he dismissed his horrific language about women caught on tape as simply “locker-room talk” during a more controlled performance in the second presidential debate Sunday night.

And when it came to the critical national-security issues that we are watching closely at PutinTrump.org, Trump developed a sudden case of amnesia about his oft-repeated praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as well as his own business dealings with Russian oligarchs. He also flatly denied the U.S. intelligence community’s charges that Russia is attempting to interfere with the U.S. election by cyber hacking – and even contradicted his running mate on the best approach to Russia in dealing with ISIS.

Here’s what Trump said in Sunday night’s debate and what the record actually shows in response:

Statement 1: “I don’t know Putin.”

Politifact called Trump on this back in August when he first started to distance himself from the Russian strongman. Here are some direct quotes from Trump over the past three years:

“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today.” (MSNBC, 2013)

“…I own Miss Universe, I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.” (National Press Club address, 2014)

And of course Trump has repeated time and again that he believes Putin is a “stronger leader” than President Obama.

Statement 2: “I think it would be great if we got along with Putin so we could fight ISIS together.”

Last week, during the vice presidential debate, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence was singing a completely different tune on the threat Putin represents: “And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria.”

On Sunday night, when moderator Martha Raddatz reminded Trump of Pence’s strong words on Russia, Trump said: “He (Pence) and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.”

Statement 3: “ … she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.

In July, Trump explicitly invited Russia to hack into American systems to find emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s servers – and he hit the missing-email issue hard again in Sunday’s debate. His dare came amid questions around the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Also in July, Trump refused to call on Putin to stay out of the election, “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do. Why would I tell him what to do? Why do I have to get tough on Putin? I don’t know anything other than that he doesn’t respect our country.”

On Friday, the U.S. government officially accused Russia of hacking the campaign in order to influence the election. “The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” The DNC had previously reported that its investigation had pointed to Russian hackers.

And hacks into two state election systems have been tracked to servers in Siberia, confirmed by the owner of the servers.

Statement 4: “I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there.

As pointed out last month on PutinTrump.org, there is an abundance of evidence of Trump’s business dealings with Russian investors and oligarchs. Slate has reported extensively about Trump’s relationships with Russian investors going back two decades. And even Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has bragged: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

A recent ABC News investigation suggests Trump’s business ties with Russia are vast, potentially in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Up next: As the campaign intensifies over its final four weeks, look for Trump to continue to be at odds with his running mate about the Russian threat, or try to forget or fudge his positions on Russia and his relationship with Putin. The final face-off between the presidential candidates will be Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Las Vegas.

Sources: The Washington Post, Politifact, CNN, The New York Times, Slate, ABC News, The Independent

Trump, taxes and the Russians: What we don’t know

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How deep are Donald Trump’s financial ties to Russia? And how entangled are his business interests with Vladimir Putin’s Russian nationalist interests?

The public needs to see Trump’s full tax returns in order to know the answers – a reasonable expectation because every other presidential candidate since Gerald Ford has released tax returns. Expect the issue of Trump’s refusal – and the question about what he’s hiding – to come up again when Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in Debate No. 2 on Sunday night.

The New York Times began to shine a light into the dark hole that has been Trump’s tax returns when it published a portion of Trump’s 1995 tax records last weekend. These showed nearly a billion dollars in losses that year, which “could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income tax for up to 18 years.” This suggests zero paid in taxes despite potentially earning a billion dollars in income to support his opulent lifestyle.

Trump has claimed that his 92-page financial disclosure form – with its extensive small-print details on assets and income – reveals enough about his financial empire.  But Politifact argues Trump’s tax returns would show much more: For example, we still don’t know Trump’s “effective tax rate, the types of taxes he paid, and how much he gave to charity, as well as a more detailed picture of his income-producing assets.”

Beyond those unanswered questions lie Trump’s financial connections with Russia.

A recent ABC News investigation suggests Trump’s business ties with Russia are vast, potentially in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Trump has said, “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” but he has never said Russians have no investments in him or his real estate developments.

Writing in The Hill in August, columnist Patrick Tomlinson suggested that Trump won’t release his full tax returns because he may be in hock to some very questionable people:

“…it is well known that most of the major U.S. based banks haven’t done business with Donald Trump in a very long time. He’s proven to be a bad bet, with multiple bankruptcies on his record, failed casinos, and a history of screwing over vendors and other small businesses…

“As a result, Trump would need loans to take advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves. Loans that his diminished reputation and sketchy repayment history has made difficult to obtain. For the last twenty years, Trump’s go-to has been German-based Deutsche Bank, but even that relationship has soured as Trump has burned them on several occasions and the bank has faced its own pressures and troubles from outside their relationship.

“So where does a cash-poor billionaire go when they need a quick payday loan,” Tomlinson asks? Russian oligarchs or the mafia, he suggests.

Fox News contributor George Will told an interviewer that Russian oligarchs are the most likely sources of his funds: “Perhaps one more reason why we’re not seeing his tax returns – because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent, it’s probably the reasonable surmise.”

That’s also what some members of Congress believe, as quoted in The Guardian: “It’s likely those tax returns will show major income for Trump and his family from Russia – from Russian business interests, from Russian oligarchs,” said Chris Murphy, a senator from Connecticut. “It will show that the decisions he will make on whether to turn on or off sanctions against Russia could have a multimillion-dollar impact on his wealth. That’s not embarrassing, that’s disqualifying.”

Exactly how much money Trump has taken in from Russian sources, and how much he owes Russians in return, will never be fully known until more of his tax returns are leaked to the press, or the candidate releases them. It is unprecedented that candidate Trump refuses to do so.

This is more than an issue of financial disclosure; it’s an issue of national security. Does Trump’s pro-Putin foreign policy – questioning NATO and calling for an end to sanctions against Russia (imposed because of their takeover of the Crimea region in Ukraine) – come from his national security convictions or because these have an impact on his wealth?  Is his motivation to cozy up to Putin a financial one with a conflict of interest? Or, is this actually a principled stand, even though it goes against 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy consensus?

Candidate Trump could end the speculation and settle this central question – how much is he beholden to the Russians? – simply by releasing his full tax records.

Next up: We’ll be watching Sunday night as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet for their second presidential debate. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Sources: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politifact, ABC News, The Hill, The Wall Street Journal (paywall), The Guardian

Trump’s praise for Putin gets no defense from Pence

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Russian leader Vladimir Putin may not literally be on the U.S. presidential ticket, but he was on stage over and over in Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate. Democrat Tim Kaine raised the issue of Donald Trump’s praise for Putin early on, and questioned whether Trump’s tax returns would reveal compromising business interests tied to Russia.

Throughout the debate, Kaine challenged Republican Mike Pence to defend Trump’s words on Putin, as well as other policy positions. Pence didn’t do it.

Instead, Pence sidestepped the Putin-Trump connection, choosing to reinforce traditional Republican Party foreign policy values. He even vowed that a President Trump would show “strength” in response to an aggressive Russia. Here are highlights from the debate on the critical foreign policy and national security issues we’re watching at putintrump.org.

PUTIN’S INVASION OF UKRAINE:

What was said in the debate:

Kaine: Hillary Clinton has gone toe-to-toe with Russia. … She went toe-to-toe with Russia and lodged protests when they went into Georgia. And we’ve done the same thing about Ukraine, but more than launching protests, we’ve put punishing economic sanctions on Russia that we need to continue.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, didn’t know that Russia had invaded the Crimea.

Pence: Oh, that’s nonsense.

What the record shows: In August, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?”

NATO:

What was said in the debate:

Kaine: … Donald Trump’s claim … that NATO is obsolete and that we need to get rid of NATO is so dangerous.

Pence: That’s not his plan.

What the record shows: Trump has criticized the 28-nation-strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization for months, telling The New York Times in July that he was “prepared to walk” away from treaties like NATO if other nations didn’t increase their payments – a position that is very much in Putin’s interests. Pence contradicted Trump in July, and by the first presidential debate, Trump was changing his tune and saying he was “all for NATO.”

HARD LINE OR SOFT LINE ON PUTIN?

What was said in the debate:

Kaine brought up Trump’s praise for Putin over and over, to which Pence muttered “Oh, come on.” When Pence finally mentioned Putin directly, his words were in sharp contrast to his running mate’s:

Pence: And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America — the greatest nation on Earth – just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria …. We’ve just got to have American strength on the world stage. When Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they’re dealing with a strong American president.

What the record shows: Trump’s flattery for Putin is well-documented. On Pence’s point specifically – that Trump would be a tougher on Russia – Trump said exactly the opposite in his July 28 news conference: “Why do I have to get tough on Putin? I don’t know anything other than that he doesn’t respect our country.”

So, how did Pence do?

Even as he contradicted Trump’s words on Putin’s interests, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes that Pence looked extremely comfortable in the debate spotlight, perhaps making a case for himself as a GOP presidential contender in 2020 or 2024. “Win or lose in 24 days, Pence did himself real good in the eyes of the Republican world on Tuesday night.’

Next up:

Trump and Clinton face off again Sunday, Oct. 9 – this time in a town-hall-style debate. Will Trump attempt to back away from more of his pro-Russian statements, as he did with NATO in the first debate? We’ll be watching.

Sources: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN

(Photo: Voice of America)

NATO, no … NATO, yes: Trump’s reversals only confuse

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Because Donald Trump’s campaign brand is based on his saying whatever he wants whenever he wants, regardless of facts, he changes his tune with abandon. This was clear in the first presidential debate when 84 million viewers saw him get outfoxed by a more fact-based opponent.

Switching positions or softening rhetoric is a hallmark of Trump’s campaign. As NBC has pointed out, he mixes facts with exaggerations and outright falsehoods so many times it’s hard to keep track. NBC created a list that “features 124 distinct policy shifts on 20 major issues, tracking only his stated views since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.”

Perhaps nowhere is this all-over-the-map style more troubling than in Trump’s statements about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which he has repeatedly denigrated in interviews.  During the debate, however, he seemed to make a U-turn on support for NATO – at first repeating his notion that America’s bedrock alliance might be “obsolete.” Later, he shifted, saying he is “all for NATO,” much to the relief, if not the continued confusion, of U.S. allies in Europe.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton said, “ I want to assure our allies that we have mutual defense treaties. The U.S. would honor its commitments to U.S. treaties and allies.”

Trump has said America’s NATO allies have to meet a 2 percent GDP threshold for defense spending, or he suggested the U.S. might not come to their aid when attacked, and he alluded to this again during the debate. (NATO’s Article V says an attack against one member is an attack against all, and members have an obligation to defend each NATO member whatever their level of defense spending).

Trump’s skepticism about NATO and his reversals have raised alarms in the former Eastern Europe, countries that border an increasingly aggressive Russian Federation. Trump’s remarks are “both dangerous and irresponsible,” said Ojars Kalnins, who chairs the foreign affairs committee in Latvia’s parliament. “This won’t be good for NATO unity or the security situation. In principle, he is saying the U.S. will not fulfill its promises or obligations.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reacted to Trump’s comments in the first debate, telling the Wall Street Journal (paywall): “NATO has played a key role in the fight against terrorism for many, many years,” despite Trump’s criticism that such action only came after Trump raised this issue. “To share intelligence among allies is one of the tools we use in the fight against terror,” Stoltenberg said. “But this is something planned and discussed for along time and is not a result of the U.S. election campaign.”

Republican stalwarts like former Virginia Senator John Warner – a World War II veteran and past chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee – are deeply concerned that the next president “have a very firm and fundamental understanding” about America’s responsibilities in the world. “We are, like it or not, the leader of the free world,” Warner, who has endorsed Clinton, was quoted as saying in the Washington Post.  “You don’t pull up a quick text like National Security for Dummies …”

“When I recall what the opponent [Trump] has said about the military, I shake my head,” Warner said, recalling the placard on the wall in Marine boot camp in 1945: “Loose lips sink ships. Got that Trump? Loose lips sink ships.”

Trump’s Loose Lips can undermine alliances, frighten allies and embolden adversaries. It is worth noting that even with all of his many policy reversals, Trump continues to be a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he has throughout his campaign. That bromance and his business dealings in Russia are despite Putin’s recent aggressive military and political activity: annexing the Crimea, bombing in Syria, and threatening to take over more of the Ukraine. Are the Baltic States next?

No, NATO is not obsolete. And a strategic alliance is more than a business deal.

Sources: NBC, The Washington Post, The Independent, Business Insider, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal (paywall), New York Magazine

 

“THE REAL POWER OF PUTIN”: A STUDY OF THE STRONGMAN

LN_2GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has made it clear that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “stronger leader” than President Obama, repeating that claim in the Sept. 7 forum on national security. Former U.S. intelligence officials have responded by saying that Trump’s proposed policies read like a “Kremlin wish list” and declare this embrace of Putin disqualifies Trump from serving as our nation’s commander-in-chief.

Trump is clearly drawn to Putin’s authoritarian style and his 82 percent approval rating – a rating that the New York Times points out is inflated because many of Putin’s opponents have been exiled, imprisoned or in some cases even killed. So, it’s worth taking a closer look at Putin’s Russia.

In the Sept. 29 issue of the New York Review of Books, University of Pennsylvania professor Benjamin Nathans dives into a deep discussion around “The real power of Putin,” offering a reading list of nine books that trace Putin’s journey from a young lieutenant colonel guarding the KGB mansion in 1989 Berlin to a president who has eliminated regional elections of governors, annexed neighboring Crimea and steadily consolidated his power. Authors include several veteran journalists, scholars and political scientists.

Nathans argues that in the U.S., the admiration between Trump and Putin should be the least of our worries:

“More significant—and more alarming—than any mutual flattery between the two autocratic figures, however, have been the financial ties between the Trump camp and a range of Putin’s allies. Paul Manafort, who resigned as Trump’s campaign manager on August 19, previously sold his services to Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian leader whose ousting in February 2014 led to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, as well as to Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate and Putin confidante who was banned from entering the United States. Carter Page, one of Trump’s foreign policy advisors, formerly worked for Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom. Trump himself, after his hotel and casino business went bankrupt in 2004, benefited significantly from infusions of capital that originated with Russian oligarchs.”

And Nathans offers this take on the advantage Putin sees in supporting Trump:

“For Putin, Trump represents not just a man with whom the Kremlin can do business, but potentially the most useful among the cohort of ultra-nationalists, including Nigel Farage in Britain, Marine Le Pen in France, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who are leading the latest assault on globalization, neoliberalism, and the Western alliance system—this time from within.”

Sources: The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, Politifact, The New York Times

THE DANGERS OF PUTIN-TRUMP: AN ABUNDANCE OF EVIDENCE

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Trump’s views on Russia, NATO and the United States’ responsibilities in the world go against 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy consensus. On putintrump.org, we are raising questions about Trump’s policy pronouncements and providing answers for the vast numbers of American voters we believe share our national security concerns.

We have been compiling the most important news articles and opinions on the Putin-Trump connection – and the danger it poses – for interested citizens and voters of all political parties. These are some of the alarming details the editorial team has learned so far about the Putin-Trump relationship:

We are following the money trail from Russia to Trump:

Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign banks and interests – but one of the bigger unknowns about Donald Trump’s finances, without benefit of his tax returns, is how much direct or indirect investment in his business empire comes from Russian oligarchs and other former Soviet sources. What is known is that Russian money has kept some of his various development entities afloat. Read more

Trump’s campaign staff has extensive ties to Russia:

Former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort has been linked to undisclosed cash payments of nearly $13 million from the pro-Russian political group, the Party of Regions, in the Ukraine. Read more

And he’s not the only one. Several other top Trump advisers, past and present, have strong ties to Russia’s elite. Read more

Russia is believed to be interfering with the U.S. election process:

Russian government hackers are widely believed to be behind the cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee’s email system, which led to the release of 20,000 private emails just before the Democratic National Convention. Trump then invited the Russian cyber-thieves to do even more, to dig into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server to find supposedly missing emails. In effect, Trump was asking the Russians to become a player in the U.S. presidential election – on his behalf – an invitation that has been widely condemned. And two states’ election systems have also reportedly been targeted by hackers. Read more

Trump campaign rhetoric is already having an impact in Russia and Ukraine:

The Trump-Clinton race has become summer’s “must-see TV” in both Russia and Ukraine – and Trump’s campaign is actually having a tangible effect on the ground in both countries. Read more

All of this has voters and national security experts worried:

Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, and Putin’s clear preference for Trump in the U.S. Presidential election, is setting off alarms with American voters of Eastern European ancestry. Read more

And 50 senior Republican national security officials signed a letter declaring that Donald Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” Read more

If you are concerned, too, learn more about the putintrump.org project – and keep watching this space. Through Election Day Nov. 8, the editorial team will continue to gather, analyze and share the reporting that journalists around the world are doing on the Trump-Putin connection and the danger that poses. You can also keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter.

And most important: Remember to vote.

 

FOLLOW THE MONEY FROM RUSSIA TO TRUMP

follow_the_money_imageOne of the bigger unknowns about Donald Trump’s finances, without benefit of his tax returns, is how much direct or indirect investment in his business empire comes from Russian oligarchs and other former Soviet sources.

What is known, is that Russian money has kept some of his various development entities afloat and that may be one reason for his extremely favorable treatment of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian policies since the start of Trump’s campaign. Writing in Slate about “Putin’s Puppet,” Franklin Foer collected the history of what he called Trump’s slavish devotion to Russian leaders and investors going back more than two decades:

“Russians helped finance his projects in Toronto and SoHo; they snapped up units in his buildings around the world – so much so that he came to target them, hosting cocktail parties in Moscow to recruit buyers. (His tenants included a Russian mobster, who ran an illegal poker ring in the Trump Tower and accompanied Trump to the staging of the Miss Universe contest in Moscow.) Even when he built a tower in Panama, he narrowcast his sales efforts to draw Russians, as the Washington Post has reported. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., bragged. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports many U.S. banks have shunned Trump, but not the Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, which is a well-known conduit for money from Russian oligarchs, according to The New Yorker.

The Journal: “Other Wall Street banks, after doing extensive business with Mr. Trump in the 1980s and 1990s, pulled back in part due to frustration with his business practices but also because he moved away from real-estate projects that required financing, according to bank officials. Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley are among the banks that don’t currently work with him. At Goldman Sachs Group Inc., bankers “know better than to pitch” a Trump-related deal, said a former Goldman executive.”

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo concluded, “it is an open secret on Wall Street that none of the big banks will do business with Trump because he’s not trustworthy.

Trump’s most recent financial disclosure as a candidate, released in May 2016, shows that he owes at least $250 million to banks (Wall Street Journal blog Moneybeat). He has multiple loans of more than $50 million apiece from the German bank, according to an investigation by Mother Jones. That raises other questions:

“Two of those megaloans are held by Deutsche Bank, which is based in Germany but has US subsidiaries. And this prompts a question that no other major American presidential candidate has had to face: What are the implications of the chief executive of the US government being in hock for $100 million (or more) to a foreign entity that has tried to evade laws aimed at curtailing risky financial shenanigans, that was recently caught manipulating markets around the world, and that attempts to influence the US government?”

Russia has strategically supported right-wing populist and authoritarian parties in Eastern and Western Europe that tend to support Russian interests. This financial support could potentially prove disruptive to NATO cohesion and the Western consensus against an expansionist Russia. Among those getting Russian help are the French National Front and Marine Le Pen, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary, among some 15 right-wing political parties that are believed to have Russian support of one kind or another.

The New York Times has reported: “The Kremlin’s goal seems to be to sow division, destabilize the European Union and possibly fracture what until now has been a relatively unified, if sometimes fragile, consensus against Russian aggression.” Russian support for Trump fits right in with this pattern.

Foer concludes in Slate:

“A Trump presidency would weaken Putin’s greatest geo-strategic competitor. By stoking racial hatred, Trump will shred the fabric of American society. He advertises his willingness to dismantle constitutional limits on executive power. In his desire to renegotiate debt payments, he would ruin the full faith and credit of the United States. One pro-Kremlin blogger summed up his government’s interest in this election with clarifying bluntness: ‘Trump will smash America as we know it, we’ve got nothing to lose.’ ”

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright told Business Insider: “Vladimir Putin could not dream up a better presidential candidate than Donald Trump to help him move his grand vision forward.”

Albright, who supports Hillary Clinton, listed some of the reasons why the Kremlin would favor Trump: “Donald Trump, beyond just praising [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, has defended his most unacceptable behavior and proposed a series of pro-Kremlin policies,” adding that Trump would be open to easing sanctions on Russia and recognizing the country’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. “He has stoked European disunity, celebrated Brexit, and casually predicted the break-up of the European Union,” Albright said. “[He] even encouraged Russian espionage in a US election.”

Sources: Slate, Wall Street Journal (paywall), The New Yorker, Talking Points Memo, Mother Jones, The New York Times, Business Insider

TANGIBLE IMPACT IN UKRAINE, RUSSIA

The U.S. election is still 76 days away, but the Trump-Clinton race has become summer’s  “must-see TV” in both Russia and Ukraine – and Trump’s campaign is actually having a tangible effect on the ground in both countries, Politico reports:

In short, the rhetoric in the U.S. election campaign – especially Trump’s – is already altering policy in the region, hardening Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine and at the same time frustrating and confusing the Ukrainians who want to stand up to Putin. This is partly because the U.S. campaign is happening against the backdrop of rising tensions between Kiev and Moscow. Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko put his army on combat alert after Putin accused him of sending “saboteurs” into Crimea. State television showed footage of the Russians capturing the suspects under a full moon. Russian intelligence claimed that the Ukrainian military had killed a Russian officer and soldier. Kiev called the allegation “a fantasy.” …

Many Ukrainians, torn by their own political scandals and conflicts, say they’re shaken by the level of discourse in the United States, whose democracy many Ukrainian revolutionaries once saw as their compass. The GOP nominee’s laissez-faire attitude toward Ukraine’s future is a particular contrast to the two previous Republican standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and John McCain, both of whom made strident statements in support of Ukraine’s independence and opposed Putin’s aggression.

And on Russian state television, twists and turns in the U.S. campaign are reported through a “pro-Trump lens”:

Every new Trump attack on President Barack Obama or Clinton is also regularly broadcast, as if the state media wants to say, “See, did we not tell you exactly that for years?” Trump’s latest attack line—that Obama created ISIS—is especially popular in Putin’s Russia, where the state-controlled media would have you believe that Russia’s brave leader is alone in fighting malign forces in Syria.

Sources: Politico

RUSSIAN MEDDLING IN U.S. ELECTION ALARMS VOTERS

Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, and Putin’s clear preference for Trump in the U.S. Presidential election, is setting off alarms with American voters of Eastern European ancestry, according to the Washington Post. This is especially critical in and around Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Detroit and all of Wisconsin, areas Trump needs to win. Voters there and elsewhere are worried, the Post says, because:

  • Trump has suggested that America will only conditionally live up to its obligations under the NATO charter and questioned the value of the alliance.
  • He’s said he’ll look into whether Putin should be allowed to keep Crimea, which he annexed with complete disregard for international law. “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said this month.
  • Just three weeks ago, Trump pleaded directly with the Russian government to find and release tens of thousands of Clinton’s private emails. Asked whether Russian espionage into the former secretary of state’s correspondence would concern him, he replied: “No, it gives me no pause.
  • Trump’s campaign chairman until last Friday, Paul Manafort, orchestrated the ill-fated political comeback of Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine and is closely linked with other Putin cronies.
  • At the Republican National Convention last month, the Trump campaign stripped the party platform of language calling for the United States to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to resist Russian belligerence.

Sources: Washington Post

MONEY FOR MANAFORT

Paul Manafort has resigned as Trump’s Campaign Chairman after a staff shakeup. That may be because of an Aug. 14 The New York Times investigation linking Manafort to undisclosed cash payments of nearly $13 million from the pro-Russian political group, the Party of Regions, in the Ukraine. Manafort was a consultant for former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych for five years before he was ousted from power and fled to Russia. The payments came to light through an investigation by Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Manafort later denied ever receiving any off-the-books cash payments or having ever worked for the Ukraine or Russian governments. The Times reports:

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.

In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin. …

“He understood what was happening in Ukraine,” said Vitaliy Kasko, a former senior official with the general prosecutor’s office in Kiev. “It would have to be clear to any reasonable person that the Yanukovych clan, when it came to power, was engaged in corruption.”

Source: The New York Times

A HIDDEN PATH FOR MONEY, INFLUENCE

 The Associated Press unearths more details about the trail of Russian money linked to Trump‘s now former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort in a story revealing Manafort assisted Ukraine’s pro-Russia governing party in funneling money to two Washington lobbyist firms via a nonprofit organization. This path sidestepped U.S. Justice Department rules requiring lobbyists to disclose that they represent foreign leaders or political parties. The AP reports:

Manafort and business associate Rick Gates, another top strategist in Trump’s campaign, were working in 2012 on behalf of the political party of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych.

People with direct knowledge of Gates’ work said that, during the period when Gates and Manafort were consultants to the Ukraine president’s political party, Gates was also helping steer the advocacy work done by a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit that hired a pair of Washington lobbying firms, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC.

The nonprofit, the newly created European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, was governed by a board that initially included parliament members from Yanukovych’s party. The nonprofit subsequently paid at least $2.2 million to the lobbying firms to advocate positions generally in line with those of Yanukovych’s government.

That lobbying included downplaying the necessity of a congressional resolution meant to pressure the Ukrainian leader to release an imprisoned political rival.

The lobbying firms continued the work until shortly after Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014, during a popular revolt prompted in part by his government’s crackdown on protesters and close ties to Russia. …

Gates told the AP that he and Manafort introduced the lobbying firms to the European Centre nonprofit and occasionally consulted with the firms on Ukrainian politics. He called the actions lawful…

Source: The Associated Press

RUSSIAN INVESTMENTS IN TRUMP

Trump says he doesn’t have investments in Russia, but that’s not the whole story. It appears that Russians have big investments in Trump’s developments. Trump claims he doesn’t know where the money comes from, but it is clear he has sought to capture the enormous amounts of capital pouring out of the former Soviet Union. By his own admission, The Financial Times says, Trump “has agreed to serve as the public face of a murky business.” The paper describes one relationship this way:

During the first decade of this century, Donald Trump began doing business with an unlikely partner — Bayrock, a New York property developer founded only a few years before by a Soviet-born newcomer to the US named Tevfik Arif.

The Republican presidential nominee and Bayrock were both based in Trump Tower and they joined forces to pursue deals around the world — from New York, Florida, Arizona and Colorado in the US to Turkey, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Their best-known collaboration — Trump SoHo, a 46-storey hotel-condominium completed in 2010 — was featured in Mr Trump’s NBC television show The Apprentice.

Yet when Mr Trump testified under oath in 2011 about his relationship with Mr Arif’s company, he confessed that he found his partners puzzling. Mr Trump said he knew what they did. But he said he was unsure of exactly who they were. …

 

Mr Trump’s Bayrock blind spot gains significance in the context of this year’s presidential race. Mr Trump has taken a stance on Russia that is at odds with US political orthodoxy — praising President Vladimir Putin’s leadership skills and saying he would consider lifting sanctions imposed on Russia after its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. Critics have asked whether Mr Trump’s business interests might be colouring his policies.

 

Source: The Financial Times (paywall)

ONE LETTER WITH 50 SIGNATURES: OUR NATIONAL SECURITY AT RISK

 In a letter released Aug. 8, 50 senior Republican national security officials declared Donald Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” The letter is signed by Michael Hayden, a former director of both the CIA and National Security Agency; John Negroponte, a former director of national intelligence and former deputy secretary of state; Robert Zoellick, a former deputy secretary of state; and two former secretaries of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. Among the signatories, some reportedly will vote for Hillary Clinton, and some say they will not vote – “but all agree Trump is not qualified and would be dangerous.” The New York Times summarizes the letter: 

The letter says Mr. Trump would weaken the United States’ moral authority and questions his knowledge of and belief in the Constitution. It says he has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values” on which American policy should be based. And it laments that “Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.”

“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” the letter states, though it notes later that many Americans “have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us.”

Source: The New York Times

“MONEY POURING IN FROM RUSSIA”

A deeply reported story in the Washington Post describes Trump’s 30-year history of business dealings with Russian oligarchs and government officials. These dealings began in the 1980s when there was still a Soviet Union. Trump’s many business deals and activities include bringing the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow in 2013. Of more serious consequence has been heavy Russian investments in Trump’s properties and businesses, as acknowledged by Trump’s son Donald Jr. Maybe that’s why Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man Trump thinks he can do business with. Meanwhile, the Post says that most American political and national security leaders see Putin as “a pariah who disregards human rights and has violated international norms” and who remains a top geopolitical threat to America’s national security interests. The Post:

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

The dynamic illustrates the extent to which Trump’s worldview has been formed through the lens of commerce rather than the think tanks, government deliberations and international diplomatic conferences that typically shape the foreign policy positions of presidential candidates.

It also reflects Trump’s willingness to see world leaders through his own personal connections. In a Republican Party in which an ability to stand up to Putin has been seen as a test of toughness, Trump’s relationship with the Russian leader is instead one of mutual flattery.

Source: The Washington Post

TRUMP IS SEEN AS PUTIN’S PUPPET

One thing intelligence operatives, foreign and domestic, can agree on: Vladimir Putin is exercising his KGB skillset to manipulate Trump for Russia’s interests.

“[Putin] played this perfectly, right? He saw that Donald Trump wanted to be complemented. He complimented him. That led Donald Trump to then compliment Vladimir Putin and to defend Vladimir Putin’s actions in a number of places around the world. And Donald Trump didn’t even understand, right, that Putin was playing him. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.” – Former CIA Acting Director, Michael Morell

Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessments, has said Putin, “understands that Clinton is a real politician, and it would be more difficult to get her to believe what he wants.”
Sources: NBC News | USA Today

CAMPAIGN STAFF ON RUSSIAN PAYROLLS

Did you know that a number of Trump’s top advisers, past and present, have strong ties to Russia’s elite?

  • Michael Caputo, former adviser: Contracted to improve Putin’s image in 2000
  • Carter Page, former adviser: Ran the Moscow branch of Merrill Lynch, which included advising Russian energy giant Gazprom.
  • Paul Manafort, now former Campaign Chairman and Convention Manager
    • 2005 : Manafort was officially hired as an adviser for Rinat Akhmetov, one of the Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen.
    • 2006 : Akhmetov introduces Manafort to Viktor Yanukovych, to be hired as an election campaign adviser (2007-2012). As consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Russian ruling political party, Manafort’s name was listed on secret records showing he received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments, according to the New York Times.
      • In those 5 years, Manafort never registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Justice Department. A requirement to “insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws.”
    • Trump used to stand for a harsher watch on Russia in Ukraine, but after Manafort stepped in, he changed his opinion of Crimea and Putin’s occupation. The campaign also changed the GOP party platform removing language that had called for arming Ukraine against further Russian incursions. The gutting of this platform plank is contrary to the view of most GOP foreign policy leaders.

Sources: Washington Post 1 2 | Politifact | Politico | United States Department of Justice – FARA