No big deal, Vladimir.

Two weeks ago I posted an explanation of why I believe that we should be concerned about the potential for divided loyalties when it comes to president-elect Donald Trump and Russia.  Trump’s actions this week could turn me into a budding conspiracy theorist.

Reacting to the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama for attempting to influence the outcome of the presidential election by hacking into emails Trump sniffed that he would look into the allegations of hacking when he had a chance, but that it was “time to move on to bigger and better things.”  In other words, no big deal, just get over it, folks.  Today he praised Russian president Vladimir Putin for not retaliating against the United States for the sanctions, stating “I always knew he was very smart.”  Trump’s point – that Putin was being the bigger and smarter man than our own president – could not have been made any clearer.

Trump’s position on the hacking and the sanctions puts him at odds with senior Republicans in Congress.  At one end of the spectrum are Senators McCain and Graham, who long have considered Russia an implacable foe of the United States and routinely refer to Putin as a thug and a murderer.  House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell both back the sanctions, with Ryan pointing out that “under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests.” McConnell added “The Russians are not our friends,” and went out of his way to express his support for the CIA and its work.

It is obvious that the more experienced (and knowledgeable) Republicans in Congress are becoming increasingly leery of Trump’s overtures toward Putin.  It is worth emphasizing that Trump need not be this overly solicitous of Putin now in order to reset the United States’ relationship with Russia after he takes office.  Trump’s verbiage at this point is intended to clear out the weeds, and by the weeds I am referring to everyone in the Executive Branch whose opinions on Russia Trump finds objectionable.

Robert Baer, an intelligence and security analyst, author and former CIA operative, said today on CNN that if he was still in the CIA he would be headed for the door.  Although there may not be a mass exodus of career intelligence analysts I have no doubt that Baer is correct about the demoralizing effect of Trump’s attitude about the value of intelligence from the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.  That is entirely by design.

Trump eschews the daily intelligence briefings, questioning their value.  He openly insults the CIA by referring to them as “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”  Trump is deliberately undermining what soon will be his intelligence agencies, telling them that he will not be relying on their findings.

Rudy Giuliani, perhaps the most disappointing of all Trump sycophants, pointed the way forward for Trump on the hacking issue:

“Here’s what you do: You get your own people to review it.  There’s no question that the intelligence that President Obama has been getting has either been incompetent or politicized. I do cybersecurity for a living, and this is prolific, and there should be very strong reactions against anyone who did it. But I would urge President Trump, when he becomes President Trump, to have his own intelligence people do their own report, let’s find out who did it, and let’s bang them back really hard.”

You can be sure that Trump’s “own intelligence people” are not going to confirm that Russia was behind the hacking.  If he is not going to use the CIA, NSA or the FBI for intelligence gathering, who is he going to use?  Kellyanne Conway?

In 2008 Donald Jr. stated that money was “pouring in” to Trump projects from Russia, and that Russian money made up a “disproportionate” cross-section of Trump “assets.”  Eight years later and after electing Trump president we know nothing more about the extent to which the Trump empire has been or will continue to be dependent on Russian financing, or about the nature of any control retained by Russian banks and oligarchs over Trump projects.  How can that possibly be?  Are we that trusting, or that stupid?

Long story short, we have no idea how deeply beholden Trump and his family are to the Russians.  Am I overstating the concerns?  If your answer is Yes, explain to me the basis for your conclusion, because the relevant facts have been withheld from us.  Once Trump becomes president do you think the FBI or CIA will be trying to ascertain the nature of Trump’s relationship to his Russian financiers?  This just gets scarier.

As an aside, Trump’s closeness to Putin could spell trouble for another of Trump’s new-found friends, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Russia’s rapidly expanding military and political ties with Iran pose a threat to the United States’ interests in Afghanistan and also pose a threat to the long-term survival of Israel.  The decline of the United States’ influence in the Middle East coupled with the rise of a Russia-Iran alliance is not good news for Israel.

In a non-alternate universe leaders of both parties would be insisting on full disclosure of the documents and details pertaining to all money from Russian banks and oligarchs lent to or invested in Trump projects.  If concerned Senators are looking for an opportunity to press that point the confirmation hearing for Rex Tillerson, a Putin friend and Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of State, seems like a place to start.

December 30, 2016

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