Putin, Trump, and Moscow Mitch: An Unholy Alliance

The United States is and has been under attack by Putin’s Russian Federation. This isn’t news to informed citizens; it’s been in the public domain for years now. However, as time passes and more investigations unearth the vast scale and severity of Putin’s hostile acts against this nation, the national security apparatus has never been more sure of what the Russians did in 2016, what they’re doing now, and what they intend to do during the 2020 presidential election.

The Russian threat


Putin has plotted and deployed a cyberwar on two fronts against the United States. The first front involves infiltrating our electoral systems to gather intelligence on American voters, and probing for vulnerabilities in the technical infrastructure that facilitates electoral regulation and administration. If the Russians find just a single exploit in a single state, they’ll have the ability to sabotage the outcome of the 2020 election.    

The second front is an insidious and highly-targeted campaign to influence the election by infecting the very fabric of our society. This is dispensed mostly through social media. There’s literally an army of cyber soldiers –manifested by humans and artificial intelligence– whose task is to corrupt the hearts and minds of American voters. This is carried out by fake news campaigns: attacking candidates unfavorable to Russian interests while promoting candidates favorable to Russian interests. 

An example of this type of interference is the 2016 hack on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) network. They stole tens of thousands of emails from the DNC. Some of these emails were released via DCLeaks in the summer of 2016. However, what’s most revealing about their intentions was the timing of their release. They saved nearly 20,000 emails mined from the personal gmail account of John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. These emails were systematically released in October 7, 2016, just 30 minutes after news outlets began running Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, which featured Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. At the time, the Access Hollywood tape was widely thought –even from within the Trump campaign– to ruin Trump’s bid for the presidency. However, the release of Podesta’s emails served as a timely distraction which saved Trump’s candidacy. And for the rest of the month, to keep the attention on the emails and off the Access Hollywood tape, Wikileaks portioned out daily email releases until the end of October, nearly a week before Election Day. Wikileaks accomplished this feat by working with a hacker, at the time, only known as “Gucifer 2.0.” During the Mueller investigation, it was revealed that the Gucifer 2.0 persona was actually an operation carried out by Russia’s modern-day KGB, the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. 

The Russians manufacture propaganda and disperse it on social media platforms. Their propaganda is spread by unwitting Americans, thinking they’re viewing factual news based in reality. They also paid for advertisements on these platforms to ensure their propaganda reaches a wider audience. 

The Russians, as seen in 2016, are especially interested in targeting swing districts. These are districts that are especially unpredictable since the political party affiliations amongst the electorate are neck and neck. Flipping swing districts, one district at a time, would have the most significant overall impact on a state’s Electoral College votes. 

After the 2016 presidential election, every single one of our intelligence agencies investigated, concluded, and concurred that Russia interfered in the election. The Mueller investigation not only corroborated what the intelligence agencies found, but compounded on it. The Mueller team was able to convict 26 Russian nationals, as well as three Russian companies who conspired to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller dedicated an entire volume of his report –nearly 200 pages– to Russian Interference, and as the report concluded, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” 

And over 2 ½ years later, investigators are still uncovering just how large a web the Russian’s managed to weave. The Senate Intelligence Committee, just a little over a week ago, released a bipartisan report that concluded the Russians targeted the electoral infrastructure, as well as voter registration databases, in every single state in America.

Why Trump and McConnell refuse to protect American elections


Putin attacked the lifeblood of American democracy –the electoral process– in 2016. The evidence is not only overwhelming, it’s indisputable. It was the first major cyberattack perpetrated against the United States during a presidential election, and it wasn’t a singular event. They are intent on striking again in 2020. However, the two most powerful men in the country, Trump and McConnell, are refusing to act, which is a clear and present threat to national security.

The problem starts with Trump. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence that proves Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, he still refuses to even acknowledge it. In fact, he’s continuously sided with Putin over the 2016 election interference. He’s literally taken the word of a brutal dictator over the word of the democratic institutions in his own country. It’s not only the disturbing fact of taking the word of a hostile foreign power over our entire national security apparatus, he values Putin’s word over some members of his own administration. 

Just this week, Trump had a phone conversation with Putin. On Thursday, a reporter posed the question to Trump, “Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Putin?” Trump responded, “You don’t really believe this, do you?” The reporter retorted, “He said it last week. Did you raise it?” Trump then said, “We didn’t talk about it.” Trump then went on to lie about Mueller’s testimony and made crude comments about Mueller’s acuity during his testimony. 

Trump’s unwillingness to acknowledge Russian interference isn’t out of ignorance. It’s due to two main reasons: pride and greed. His fragile ego can’t accept the fact he didn’t win solely based on his electability. Therefore, any inference of election interference implies he’s quite possibly an illegitimate president. 

Then there’s greed. He knows the Russian’s gave him, at the very least, an edge in an already tight election –an election in which he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Since being elected, Trump’s highest approval rating was 46% and his average approval rating is 40% (Gallup). By all metrics, he’s an unpopular president amongst the majority of the American people. It’s reasonable to assume Trump doesn’t think he could be reelected without Russian interference. And therefore, he’s willing to betray the sanctity of American democracy in order to get himself reelected. There are other unconfirmed factors that may also be at play. He has a long, documented history of having financial and business ties to Russia. During the 2016 campaign, he was actively trying to close a deal with the Russian government (i.e. Putin) to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. There’s also the possibility of the Russian’s having compromising material against him.

Enter Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He’s ruled over the Senate like a dictator –continuously blocking bills from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. This is especially true when it comes to the election security bills: he’s blocked nine over the past two years. On July 25th, he blocked two election security bills in a single day.

McConnell’s refusal to allow duly-elected members of the U.S. Senate to vote on an election security bill has branded him with a moniker that’s unlikely to fade away: Moscow Mitch. McConnell hasn’t been happy with his new nickname, which prompted him to justify his decision to block the bills by saying, “I’m not going to let Democrats and their water carriers in the media to use Russia’s attack on our democracy as a Trojan horse for a partisan wish list of items.” 

These so-called partisan “wish-list items” include making paper ballots a requirement, the protection to audit elections to ensure no indications of sabotage were present, ensuring states and local governments have the resources needed to update and maintain the integrity of electoral infrastructure, among other protections. These items aren’t ideological, they’re common-sense protections against the foreign interference that’s already happened. 

The only conclusion that can be made is McConnell understands Putin wants Trump and Trump-supporting members of Congress in power. Therefore, allowing these protections to be put to a vote and likely passed as law, has the real potential to damage GOP electoral prospects in 2020. There’s only one conclusion to be made: McConnell is open to Russian interference as long as it benefits his party.

After McConnell’s most recent election security bill block, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “Russia’s biggest ally in its quest to infiltrate elections again is Mitch McConnell.” He also added, “I believe foreign, hostile actors are going to make what happened in 2016 look like small potatoes compared to 2016.” 

Justin Amash (I-MI), who was a lifelong Republican up until a little over a month ago when he began speaking out against Trump’s obstruction of justice as documented in the Mueller Report. Amash was the only Republican member of the House to speak out against Trump’s criminality. He was outcast for doing so, and feeling dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s complacency with Trump’s behavior, he left the GOP and became an Independent. Amash tweeted about the McConnell situation, “There was a time when the GOP establishment hated Donald Trump. They then realized they could use a man like this—unprincipled, transactional, shameless—to push their agenda. McConnell and McCarthy are giddy about Trump. Conservatives in Congress are the ones privately horrified.” 

The Washington Post columnist, Dana Milbank, called out McConnell’s obstructive conduct in a piece entitled, Mitch McConnell is a Russian Asset. In the piece, Milbank wrote, “[McConnell is] arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.”

Conclusions


It’s a seriously dangerous prospect that the two most powerful men in the country are willing to look the other way while a hostile foreign power ramps up their election-interference machine. This is not being done for any misguided political ideology, it’s being done to maintain power. The promise of democracy is that power is vested in the people, and it’s the people who have the power to elect our leaders into positions of power, as granted by the constitution. 

This is beyond McConnell choosing party over country; he’s choosing power over the integrity of our democracy. Trump and McConnell are, in one way or the other, in bed with Putin, and our national security is at risk because of it. They can hug the flag and wear their American-flag lapel pins, but it’s merely a facade. These men aren’t patriots, they’re treacherous politicians willing to win at all costs –even if it means selling out their country to a foreign adversary.

As George Washington once warned, “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence … the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

Trump: A Traitor in the White House

Donald Trump has admitted that he’s willing to accept information on his political opponents from foreign adversaries. This is the most treacherous statement made by a president in American history. It sent shockwaves across the country: the President of the United States openly admitted his willingness to accept dirt on his political rivals from adversarial powers. It’s a felony for a campaign or government official to accept anything of value from a foreign government or entity.

The Stephanopoulos interview


Trump is infamous for rarely giving interviews to actual journalists. The overwhelming majority of his interviews are conducted by Fox News. Most of which are designed to promote him. They’re not meant to press Trump for truthful answers to questions of substance. Fox News anchors, such as Laura Ingraham, go way beyond softball questions, tee-ball questions are much more fitting for these farcical interviews.

However, on June 12, 2019, when ABC News’ Chief Anchor, George Stephanopoulos, interviewed Trump in the Oval Office, Stephanopoulos asked meaningful and pointed questions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Stephanopoulos asked about Donald Trump, Jr., who was testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in reference to his Russian contacts leading up to the 2016 presidential election. This exchange led to Trump’s treasonous admission:

Stephanopoulos: But should [Donald Trump, Jr.] have gone to the FBI when he got that email? [The email being referred is an email he received saying a Russian national had dirt on Hillary Clinton]

President Trump: Okay, let’s put yourself in a position: you’re a congressman, somebody comes up and says, “Hey I have information on your opponent.” Do you call the FBI?

Stephanopoulos: If it’s coming from Russia you do.

President Trump: You don’t– I’ll tell you what. I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. I don’t–you don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do—

Stephanopoulos: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.

President Trump: Well, that’s different. A stolen briefing book. This isn’t– this is somebody who said, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break, life doesn’t work that way.

Stephanopoulos: The FBI Director says that’s what should happen.

Trump went on to say, “The FBI Director is wrong.” Mind you, this is Trump’s personally selected FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, who took over after the firing of James Comey.

This led to a series of specific questions about how Trump would respond to potential future offers of assistance from a foreign adversarial power:

Stephanopoulos: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

President Trump: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, “we have information on your opponent.” Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.

Stephanopoulos: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

President Trump: It’s not an interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. Oh, let’s call the FBI. The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it, but you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.

The interview ended after Trump’s final statement.

A brief history of Russian interference and Trump-Russia collusion


Trump admitted he would accept campaign-aiding information from a foreign adversarial power if it was offered to him. Before the Mueller investigation ever started, journalists were reporting on the Trump campaign’s connections with the Russian government. After the 2016 election, every one of our intelligence agencies confirmed the Russians engaged in an act of cyber warfare against the lifeblood of our democracy: our electoral process.

There were also journalists breaking stories about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, such as the now infamous Trump Tower meeting. This, coupled with federal investigators looking into the matter, led to the FBI initiating an investigation to look into any potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. The FBI Director at the time, James Comey, was fired. Trump later admitted he fired him because of his unwillingness to back off Russia-related inquiries.

Comey’s firing set off a political firestorm in Washington. While the president does have the legal authority to fire an FBI director, the context and timing couldn’t have been more suspect. Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Session, had recused himself from any matters related to the Russia investigation since he himself was part of the campaign. Therefore, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was tasked with overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to lead the Special Counsel’s Office. Mueller spent nearly two years investigating Russian interference, collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as well as numerous instances of obstruction of justice committed by Trump.

Mueller ultimately concluded that Russia engaged in a “sweeping and systematic” cyber warfare campaign against the United States. Mueller also uncovered over 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.

For anyone who’s read the Mueller Report, there’s no doubt that the Trump campaign was in communication with Putin’s Russia. Some of the communications were done right out in the open. For example, during a press conference, Trump pleaded with Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s “missing emails.” Russia was listening and they complied with Trump’s request. Just a day after Trump’s appeal to a foreign adversary to dig up dirt on his opponent, Russian operatives hacked into Clinton’s personal email servers.

Before he even took the role of special counsel, Mueller’s hands were tied as far as indicting Trump. The Department of Justice has a guideline, which says a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime. So, even if Mueller found undeniable evidence that Trump committed felonies, he couldn’t do anything about it. If Trump was caught on tape committing multiple felonies, he couldn’t do anything about it.

Mueller could, however, indict other people associated with the campaign and Russians involved in the cyber warfare. In the span of his investigation, he indicted, arrested, and/or convicted 34 individuals and 3 companies. Some of these individuals were Trump campaign members or associates and some were Russian agents.

Even though Mueller was unable to indict Trump, he was still able to investigate him. After two years, he released his 448-page report to the Justice Department. The report was redacted, but even with the redactions, a history of criminal behavior on Trump’s part is evident. The most damning evidence came from Volume II, which focused on Trump’s instances of obstruction of justice. Mueller found ten concrete examples of Trump attempting to obstruct the investigation. This includes obstructing behavior from Trump, such him instructing a White House staff member to destroy written records to Trump attempting to have his staff fire Mueller.

Mueller’s report is essentially a roadmap for the House of Representatives to use in impeachment hearings. He said as much during the statement he made before resigning from the Department of Justice: “…the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

Conclusion: Trump is willing to commit treason to get re-elected


After everything that’s happened in the past few years. All the confirmed reports of Russian interference and Russian contacts, which were all corroborated by the Mueller Report, taught Trump nothing. Even if he was truly ignorant of his campaign’s contacts with the Russians or was ignorant of the implications of appealing to an adversary to commit a crime against his political opponent, one would hope he would have at least felt deterred to engage in this kind of behavior in the future, but sadly that’s not the case. To make matters even worse, with his confession to Stephanopoulos, he’s even doubled down on his corrupt behavior. He’s open to accepting dirt on a political opponent from an adversarial power to benefit politically.

A foreign adversary wouldn’t provide information to Trump with no strings attached. They’re doing it to benefit their own geopolitical interests. The act of giving the Trump campaign information is a quid pro quo. It’s a transaction: Trump gets dirt on his 2020 Democratic challenger for president and then reciprocates by implementing or changing policies that will directly benefit the adversary. Therefore, Trump is willing to compromise our national security for his own personal, political, and possibly financial benefit.  

In response to Trump’s brazen admission, Ellen Weintraub, the head of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) said:

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.”

Despite Trump brushing off calling the FBI if he was approached by a foreign adversary, the FBI’s own website contradicts Trump’s assertion. On the FBI’s “Contact Us” page, in the section “When to Contact the FBI,” one of the featured reasons to contact them is for: “Suspicious activities that you believe threaten national security, especially suspicious activity that involves foreign powers or foreign organizations.”

Trump, in his statement about the FBI director being “wrong” serves only to compound the entire situation. Aside from the fact he’s willing to publicly malign his handpicked FBI director, he also compromised the bureau’s efforts to counter Russian interference. It not only serves to demoralize the men and women of the FBI, but it also undermines the work they’ve been doing for years to safeguard our elections from foreign influence. Trump has literally encouraged foreign adversaries to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. This, in effect, would also apply to congressional campaigns. And if the president is willing to engage in this type of behavior, why wouldn’t a dubious congressional candidate as well?

The United States Constitution defines “treason” as:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

United States Constitution. Article III, Section III

It’s not hyperbole to brand Trump as a traitor. It isn’t based on conjecture or hearsay –it’s based on his own words. Trump’s interview with Stephanopoulos is one of the most shameful moments in the history of the presidency. The integrity and honor of the presidency has never been lower.

Trump doesn’t serve the interests of the American people. He’s only concerned with his own personal, political, and financial interests. He swore an oath to defend and protect the constitution, but has repeatedly betrayed that oath.

It’s easy to become hypnotized by the daily chaos being reported out of the White House. However, it’s critical that this does not become normalized. The House needs to initiate impeachment hearings immediately. There’s a traitor in the White House and he needs to be removed.

Correction: Trump’s call for Russia to find Clinton’s “missing emailsoccurred during a press conference and not a campaign event.