“Time makes more converts than reason.”
— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
Stay on message. The Trump Resistance Plan focuses on two messages that are central to our democracy: “Russia interfered” and “Presidential corruption matters.” This installment covers the first one: “Russia interfered.”
In a joint interview with Senator Lindsay Graham on January 7, Senator John McCain described the stakes: “What Putin did poses a threat to the very fundamentals of our democracy…”
Senator Graham emphasized that this is not a partisan issue: “We should get to the bottom of all things Russia when it came to the 2016 election, period. Wherever it leads in whatever form…”
Trump and Russia
Putin engaged successfully in a sophisticated cyberattack on a cherished American right – voting. Among other methods, Russia used WikiLeaks to distribute emails that it had hacked from the Democratic National Committee. The public record is incomplete, but the relatively few known facts paint a disturbing picture. Roll the tape:
— Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987. In 1996, he applied for his trademark in that country. Discussing ambitions for a Trump hotel in 2007, he declared, “We will be in Moscow at some point.”
— October 15, 2007, Trump said: “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.”
— 2008, Donald Trump, Jr. said: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
— June 18, 2013, Trump tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?” While at the pageant, Trump said, “I have plans for the establishment of business in Russia. Now, I am in talks with several Russian companies to establish this skyscraper.”
— November 11, 2013, Trump tweeted: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”
— November 2013, Trump said: “[Putin’s] done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s represented.”
— March 6, 2014, Trump said: “You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago. I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.”
— November 10, 2015, Trump said: “I got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”
— December 10, 2015: Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who would become Trump’s National Security Adviser, sat at Putin’s table for the 10th anniversary gala of Russia’s state-owned television propaganda network, RT. Flynn had made a paid appearance on the network.
— February 17, 2016: As questions about Russia swirl around Trump, he changed his story: “I have no relationship with [Putin], other than he called me a genius.”
— April 20, 2016: Paul Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager. Reports surface about his 2007 to 2012 ties to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president, whom Manafort had helped to elect.
— July 18, 2016: The Washington Post reports that the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes on a Republican convention platform plank. It gutted the GOP’s longstanding support for Ukrainians’ popular resistance to Russia’s 2014 intervention.
— July 27, 2016, Trump said: “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.”
— And at the same press conference, he insisted: “I never met Putin. I’ve never spoken to him.”
— July 31, 2016: Manafort denied knowing anything about the change in the Republican platform. That afternoon, Boris Epshteyn, Trump’s Russian-born adviser, spouted the Kremlin’s party line telling CNN: “Russia did not seize Crimea. We can talk about the conflict that happened between Ukraine and the Crimea…But there was no seizure by Russia. That’s an incorrect statement, characterization, of what happened.”
— August 6, 2016: NPR confirmed the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Republican platform change on Ukraine.
—August 19, 2016: As reports of Manafort’s financial connections to Ukraine intensified, he resigned from the Trump campaign.
— October 1, 2016: Six days before Wikileaks released emails that the Russians had hacked from John Podesta’s email account, Trump’s informal adviser and surrogate, Roger Stone tweeted: “Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.”
— October 4, 2016: Trump tweeted: “CLINTON’S CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN DESERVE SCRUTINY.”
— October 12, 2016: Roger Stone told NBC News, “I have back channel communications with WikiLeaks.”
— November 9, 2016: After Putin announced Trump’s election victory, Russia’s Parliament erupted in applause.
— November 10, 2016: Russia’s deputy foreign minister admitted that during the campaign, the Kremlin had continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage.”
— January 11, 2017: the final question of Trump’s first news conference came from Ann Compton of ABC News:
“Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?”
Trump paused, and then reverted to a standard Trump strategy: deflecting, diverting, and distracting. He never answered her. Away from cameras and heading toward the elevators, Trump reportedly said, “No,” his team didn’t have contact with Russia.
Other characters lurk in the background. After the election, Carter Page – an early foreign policy adviser to Trump – was in Moscow to “meet with business and thought leaders.” Rick Gates was involved with Paul Manafort in Ukraine and a deputy on the Trump campaign.
Find All Dots and Connect Them
The known data points cluster to create a clear impression: Putin helped Trump win and Trump welcomed the assistance. Why?
Trump’s admiration enhances Putin’s status on the world stage. If he can get Trump to lift economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, so much the better. Those sanctions are crippling Russia’s economy. Meanwhile, Trump’s persistent questioning of U.S. intelligence findings undermined those agencies’ credibility while emboldening Putin to continue flexing his cyber-muscles in European countries’ democratic elections.
What does Trump get in return? The presidency and who knows what else. His refusal to release comprehensive information about his business connections to Russia – or anywhere – leads to ugly inferences. Trump should want to dispel them, unless he can’t because they’re correct. Whatever Putin knows – and he may know a lot – might give him enormous leverage over the president.
Now add Trump’s comment to The Times of London on January 15, 2017: “We should trust Putin.”
Expressing once again his skepticism about NATO, Trump lambasted Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. That would have pleased Putin. The Western alliance contributed mightily to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Putin seeks to destabilize the West and restore Russia’s lost sphere of influence.
Send the Message
Congress must authorize a special independent “9/11” type commission. Step 2 of The Trump Resistance Plan offers contact information and language for messages that concerned citizens can send to Republicans and Democrats in Congress, especially senators. Phone calls, written letters, and office visits are even better.
Americans possess another potent weapon: The power of peaceful protest. Keep using it. And keep expanding the ranks.
The Women’s March was more successful because it also included husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. To be sure, issues affecting women affect everyone. But with new executive orders every day, Trump will generate additional protests on the environment, health care, civil rights, immigration, and more. Divergent individual motivations for public demonstrations on any such issues need not undermine a united collective purpose.
To the contrary, they can complement it. The Revolutionary War was the first model for diverse Americans uniting to achieve a common objective. In the 1960s, the combined force of the civil rights and anti-war movements created a whole vastly greater than the sum of its parts.
Here’s the key point: Every patriot can join any anti-Trump demonstration. In addition to posters expressing concerns about particular issues, anyone can bring a banner that unites us all: “Russia interfered” and, as the next installment in this series explains, “Presidential corruption matters.”
Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”
Stay on message and keep showing up.