REMINDER: The Trump-Russia Timeline is now available at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security.
Vladimir Putin spent the holiday season collecting gifts from the 45th president of the United States. The latest developments in a scandal that the Trump-Russia Timeline chronicles now look like a game of “RISK” — with Putin moving effortlessly as the dominant player on the board. And to cap it off, on Jan. 2, Trump echoed Russian propaganda seeking to rewrite the history of the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
America’s President Panders to a Thug With Nuclear Weapons
Give Putin credit. Without nuclear weapons, Russia would be a bit-player on the world stage. Its economy ranks 11th in the world — about one-tenth of that of the United States. If California and Texas were separate nations, both would surpass Russia in GDP. Yet in contrast to Trump’s willingness to antagonize other leaders of nuclear nations, including China and America’s staunchest allies, he panders to Putin as if Russia’s dictator had a gun to his head.
Even worse, the most recent turn of international events could be the beginning of a new and darker phase of the Trump era. The latest additions to the Trump-Russia Timeline depict a war in which Trump is leading a US retreat from every battlefield and Putin is emerging victorious.
Putin’s Green Light to Continue Election Interference
DEC. 17, 2018: The Senate Intelligence Committee releases two new bipartisan reports that Russia interfered with the 2016 election through social media, not only to help Trump win, but also to aid him thereafter — including attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump’s Response: Silence.
Bottom Line: Russia’s war on truth and the vote — two foundations of American democracy — continues.
Putin Reconstructs the Soviet Empire
DEC. 17, 2018: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pushes an unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine is “planning more provocations” at the Russian border. In the wake of Russia’s unlawful actions on Nov. 25 in the Kerch strait, the statement looks like a pretext for Russia’s next aggressive move against the former Soviet state.
DEC. 22: Russia moves more than a dozen fighter jets to the illegally annexed Crimean region in Ukraine.
DEC. 24: A spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry repeats Lavrov’s unsubstantiated claims about Ukraine’s “provocations.” The Ministry even suggests that, in addition to ground operations, Ukraine may be plotting chemical warfare.
Trump’s Response: Silence.
Bottom Line: In 2005, Putin called the disintegration of the Soviet empire the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. Now Trump is aiding and abetting Putin’s reconstruction of that empire.
Putin On His Way to Winning More Relief From US Sanctions
DEC. 19, 2018: The Treasury Department announces that, absent congressional action that won’t happen from Trump’s GOP, sanctions announced against Oleg Deripaska’s company in April — but then postponed for months — will disappear altogether in 30 days.
Deripaska is so close to Putin that he has been called “Putin’s oligarch.” For years, he was also Paul Manafort’s business associate. While serving without pay as Trump’s campaign manager in July 2016, Manafort offered Deripaska “private briefings” on the campaign. (For context and more details, go to the Trump-Russia Timeline and click on Deripaska’s name. Remarkably, a Jan. 4, 2019 article in The New York Times refers to Deripaska as a “bit player” in the Mueller investigation. Read the Timeline entries for him and decide for yourself.)
Bottom Line: Removing all economic sanctions against Russia is one of Putin’s highest priorities. Trump is helping him achieve that goal.
Putin Winning in the Mideast
DEC. 19, 2018: Trump makes a surprise announcement that the US is withdrawing all of its troops from Syria. The next day, Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns in protest over the decision. A boon to Russia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey, Trump’s action deals a crushing blow to the Kurds — America’s principal ally against ISIS in the region. Controlling the oil-rich northeastern area of Syria, the Kurds are also resisting Syria’s president, Putin-backed Bashar al-Assad, as well as Turkey’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Putin’s Response: “Donald is right. I agree with him.”
Turkey’s Response: Turkey masses troops near a town that US-backed Kurdish rebels hold.
Trump’s Follow-up: Trump tweets lies about Russia, Syria, Iran, “and many others” being unhappy about his action. They’re not. Trump also asserts falsely that Mattis “retired,” but Mattis’ two-page resignation letter proves otherwise and, in the process, also repudiates Trump’s foreign policy:
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues … Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Bottom Line: James Mattis, one of America’s most respected public servants, resigns in protest because he believes Trump is undermining US and global security; Putin, the leader of America’s principal foreign adversary, praises Trump’s actions that produced Mattis’ resignation.
In Plain Sight
JAN. 2, 2019: During a public Cabinet meeting, Trump turns spontaneously to the subject of Afghanistan, where he has previously announced a US troop reduction from 14,000 to 7,000. Trump says that the Soviet Union was “right to be there” in 1979, when it invaded the country with 30,000 troops in an attempt to prop up a pro-communist puppet regime. Trump is echoing a recent Putin talking point based on a false, revisionist history of that internationally condemned invasion.
Some of Trump’s most egregious behavior happens where everyone can see it. But he enthralls the media with an endless stream of shiny objects that obscure a simple question:
Whose side is Trump on? His actions heading into 2019 continue to reveal that the answer hasn’t changed since the 2016 campaign.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline (now at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security):
APRIL 2014: The “Translator Project” Begins; Supports Trump; Exploits Divisions Among US Voters (revision of previous entry)
MAR. 10-11, 2016: Butina Works With Erickson; Thanks O’Neill for Helping US-Russia Relations (revision of previous entry)
APRIL 11, 2016: Manafort to Russian Business Associate: ‘How Do We Use to Get Whole?’ (revision of previous entry)
JUNE 8, 2016: Parscale Meets With Trump
NOV. 29, 2018: Cohen Pleads Guilty in Mueller Probe; Coordinated False Congressional Statements with Trump Legal Team; Trump Expresses Displeasure to Whitaker (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 1, 2018: Russia Moves Military Forces to Ukrainian Border
REVISED: DEC. 7, 2018: Mueller and SDNY File Briefs on Cohen; SDNY Implicates Trump; Trump Angry at Whitaker (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 12, 2018: Flynn’s Business Partner Indicted
DEC. 14, 2018: Trump Talks to Erdoğan About Syria: ‘It’s Yours; I’m Leaving’
DEC. 17, 2018: Comey Testifies, Then Blasts GOP, Fox News, Trump
DEC. 17, 2018: Lavrov Says Ukraine Planning More Provocations
DEC. 17, 2018: Senate Intelligence Committee: Russia Targeted African-Americans in 2016 Campaign, Still Using Social Media to Help Trump and Hurt Mueller
DEC. 18, 2018: Trump Tweets: Strzok and Lisa Page Texts ‘Would Have Explained Whole Hoax’, Defends Flynn, Attacks Steele Dossier
DEC. 18, 2018: Judge Tells Flynn: ‘Arguably, You Sold Your Country Out’; Sentencing Postponed at Flynn’s Request
DEC. 19, 2018: Treasury Department Moves to Lift Sanctions on Deripaska’s Company
DEC. 19-20, 2018: Trump Announces Withdrawal from Syria; Putin Says ‘Donald is Right’
DEC. 20, 2018: Mattis Resigns
DEC. 20, 2018: House Intelligence Committee Votes to Send Stone’s Transcript to Mueller
DEC. 20, 2018: Whitaker Refuses to Recuse Himself From Trump-Russia Probe
DEC. 22, 2018: Russia Moves Fighter Jets to Crimea
DEC. 23, 2018: Turkey Massing Troops Near Syrian Border
DEC. 24, 2018: Russia Repeats Unsubstantiated Claim of Ukrainian ‘Provocation’
DEC. 25, 2018: Trump Attacks Comey, ‘No Collusion’ (Except by the Democrats)
DEC. 28, 2018: GOP Leaders Quietly End House Investigations, Call for Second Special Counsel
DEC. 29, 2018: Trump Tweets Lies About Mueller and Strzok/Lisa Page Text Messages; ‘Hoax’; FBI/DOJ ‘Rigged’ Investigations
JAN. 2, 2019: Trump Parrots Putin Revisionism on Afghanistan
JAN. 4, 2019: Trump Tweets About Impeachment, ‘No Collusion’
JAN. 4, 2019: Schiff Will Provide Transcripts to Mueller
JAN. 4, 2019: Mueller Grand Jury Extended
JAN. 5, 2019: Trump Tweets About His Campaign Finance Law Violations