Why Trump Ignores Russian Interference in our Elections
Columnist Thomas Friedman, who is not associated with any political party, wrote an op-ed column in the NYT February 18, 2018, Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now. In it he offers a plausible explanation for why President Donald Trump is reluctant to acknowledge a Russian threat to our electoral system.
He begins his piece with “Our democracy is in serious danger.” I have heard that, as many others have, on more than one occasion under other presidents. So it is a little bit like hearing the sky is falling. One should consider that tone of urgency with some skepticism.
Friedman ignores a multitude of issues, like climate change, deporting immigrant children, voter suppression, and the list could go on, which alarm those who believe that the public good is being sacrificed to benefit specific financial entities or dogma driven groups. Rather he focuses on an issue that MSNBC and CNN, the NYT and the Washington Post, have devoted much of their investigatory work on: Russian meddling in our democratic elections with the intent to weaken our ability to obstruct their own foreign policy objectives.
Unfortunately that is proving to be true with the recently released Intelligence Community Assessment report (drafted and coordinated among the CIA, FBI and the NSA), which so clearly demonstrates its existence that U.S. national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said it provided “really incontrovertible” evidence that Russia interfered. However, as the most recent polls show, over 80% of Republicans still believe Trump is doing a good job, which would indicate that at least a third of the population either doesn’t care what the Russians are doing, or more likely believe Trump when he calls fear of Russian interference a phony diversion instigated by the Democrats and the Deep State, i.e. bureaucrats who are not loyal Americans or at least not loyal to the president.
Friedman is a three time Pulitzer Prize winner and has taken positions that are at odds with many liberals, such as supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq and defending Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon as a form of “educating” Israel’s opponents. So his criticism of Trump does not emanate from a liberal philosophy but rather from a belief that Trump’s is “unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.”
Setting aside that Trump may be a fool, Friedman identifies two possible explanations for his unwillingness to criticize Russia for corrupting our elections. First, Trump could be compromised due to Russian information on him that could result in a criminal conviction as the result of his “real estate empire having taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him.” Remember how Trump said that if Mueller investigated his or his families financial dealings that would be crossing a red line? Could he have thrown a bigger spotlight on this potential conflict of interest?
What we know is that in 2008, Donald Trump Jr. attended a real estate conference, where he stated that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” A series of studies by the Financial Times show how funds from Russian oligarchs bailed Trump out after the period of his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his US bank lines of credit.
According to KOS journalist Mark Sumner in summarizing Human rights lawyer Scott Horton’s analysis of these Financial Times reports, Trump is put “at the middle of a money laundering scheme, in which his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.” Sumner concluded that Trump may have been actively involved with and working for Russian sources, or he could have just looked the other way about any deal, so long as it generated some funds to salvage his real-estate empire that was unable to raise money from American banks.
The second explanation for Trump being beholden to the Russians has been rumored to result from him being engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released. Russia’s decision to begin their attack on our elections began in April of 2014, a year after Trump held his Miss Universe contest in Russia. The timing might invite some speculation on connecting the two.
Ironically, it’s hard to imagine how much more damaging to Trump such a revelation would be, given his current state of affairs. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer has recently admitted paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election for remaining silent about her sexual relationship with Trump, while he was married to Melania. And after Stormy’s story broke, former Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal claimed she had a nine-month affair with Trump, again while he was married. Russia exposing additional infidelities would not seem to bother Trump’s Christian base of supporters, since they appear to accept him as he is and forgive him.
However, as Friedman concludes, whatever it is that motivates Trump to not only resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy from Russia and to undermine some of our most important institutions, the F.B.I. and Justice Department, his behavior is not that of a president sworn to protect our nation. If he were acting as leader “He would educate the public on the scale of the problem; he would bring together all the stakeholders — state and local election authorities, the federal government, both parties and all the owners of social networks that the Russians used to carry out their interference — to mount an effective defense.”
Instead Trump shot off a tweet storm over the weekend from his elegant Mar-a-Lago private club hotel that riled Fox News host Shepard Smith, who chastised Trump for failing to address or promise ways to hinder Russia from meddling in future United States elections. Smith stated: “The president’s spokespersons have been on television denouncing the meddling, the president has not. Not once, not on camera, not on Twitter, not anywhere.”
If Fox News hosts begin to see a lack of presidential leadership could they begin to echo Friedman’s conclusion that “The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.”
This piece was originally published in my Urban Politics newsletter, which can be subscribed to at www.becomingacitizenactivist.org