Recapitulating Trump’s Russia Connections

Donald Trump has a number of connections to Russia, both directly and through his staff. None of the connections indicate more than an interest in doing business there and admiration for an autocratic ruler. Some of his staff’s connections, particularly those of Paul Manafort and Carter Page, are more concerning, but still do not indicate political direction from Russia. Both Manafort and Page were dropped from the campaign when their Russia connections became an issue, but Manafort was seen at Trump Tower recently.

I collected what was available on Trump’s Russia connections in several posts in July. Very little has been added since then, a major failure of reporting. I’ll summarize here for those of you who want to urge Congress to investigate those connections. This post is about personal connections. Two other issues related to Russia are of concern: vote hacking and a flow of disinformation that may have influenced the election. Both deserve thorough investigation and separate discussions.

Yet another issue is Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin and the ease with which some of Trump’s apparent policies would accommodate Putin’s desires. Trump has been consistent on working with Putin in Syria and downplaying the dangers of Russian expansionism while speaking favorably of Putin’s antidemocratic tactics. He has also said things that tend to destabilize American alliances and has approved of Brexit. Because Trump has said he values uncertainty as a tactic and because his statements have been contradictory to the truth and to each other, I feel that a detailed analysis is not useful until we see more of the advisors and cabinet secretaries he appoints.

I’ve summarized Paul Manafort’s history here. Manafort advised pro-Putin Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, who fled from his country to Russia during demonstrations in February 2014. In August, we learned (NYT, WaPo) that Manafort was paid $12.7 million by Yanukovych’s political party, recorded in handwritten ledgers, probably part of an off-the-books system of payments. Manafort has denied that he was paid in cash and said he “did nothing wrong.”

I found some information on Carter Page in July, but more came out in September. Shortly after that, Page left the campaign. Julia Ioffe was able to find little on him. He spoke at Moscow’s New Economic School in June and refused to talk to the press about what he said. He has recently contributed an op-ed to the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik. Like other things he has written, it is thoroughly incoherent.

General (retired) Michael Flynn has given an interview on RT, another Russian propaganda outlet, and celebrated that organization’s anniversary with Vladimir Putin. He justified these actions by saying that RT is just like CNN. His recent book, written with the right-wing Michael Ledeen, says mixed things about Russia and the advisability of allying. Flynn will be Trump’s National Security Advisor.

Richard Burt seems to be a minor advisor to Trump, but he has a number of Russia connections. I’ll repeat here what I wrote earlier. Burt is a former Reagan administration official and was the chief US negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks with the Soviet Union in 1991. He is the US chair of Global Zero, an organization advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons. He is chair of the advisory council for the National Interest, a publication sometimes sympathetic to the Kremlin. He is also on the boards of AlfaBank, the largest commercial bank in Russia, and an investment fund with a large position  in Gazprom. In June, Burt said that he had provided information for Trump’s April speech on foreign policy but was not supporting Trump.

The information about Trump’s deals in Russia has not changed much since July. Several articles have appeared, but they rehash the information I collected. Trump has spent time in Russia. It is standard practice in Russia to acquire information on potential targets that can be used for blackmail (kompromat). Both the image that Trump likes to project of being very sexually active and his naivete on foreign relations suggest that Russia may have videos or other kompromat.

Trump has been complimentary to Russia, and to Vladimir Putin in particular. The quotes I collected in July are typical. His positions on NATO and other American alliances are what Putin would like to see: greatly weakened. And don’t forget that his people softened the Republican platform significantly on defense of Ukraine. The alt-right/American Nazis, who support Trump and have felt emboldened by his election to become more public in their hate, have connections to Russia. An official Russian statement noted contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

None of this constitutes a direct connection to Russia, but the number of indirect connections is concerning. Most of what I’ve presented here was available in July. That would allow time for the media to investigate, but that didn’t happen. It doesn’t seem to be happening now.

A few Republicans in Congress are concerned about Trump’s Russia connections (more). The Republican Party establishment has seen Russia as a threat. Whether their President-elect can turn them around remains to be seen.

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