All the orange president’s men
In the wake of the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, many surrogates for the president are calling for Democrats to “move on” from any further investigations concerning the nature of the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia. House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz, who vowed to continue probing the increasingly quaint issue of Hillary Clinton’s emails even after she lost the election, has said the matter has “taken care of itself.” Others smell blood. Flynn’s departure produced more queries than it answered: Why did the president continue to stand by Flynn for a month after being informed by the acting U.S. Attorney General he had been compromised by Russia? Did Trump already know Flynn had potentially illegally discussed lifting sanctions with a Russian diplomat? Did the president, in fact, tell him to do so?
Those are the most cursory questions that will likely be raised by any inquiry moving forward. There’s also the matter of an ongoing investigation by the intelligence community into other communications between Trump associates and Russian agents, for which there’s no shortage of potential targets. Trump’s inner circle is full of people with shady Russian contacts — Flynn could just be the first on the chopping block. The question is, which of all the orange president’s men will be next? And does this go all the way to the top?
Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort has been under investigation by the FBI since the spring of 2016. Under scrutiny is his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and the appearance of his name in a secret ledger that purported he had received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments. His activity for the party included laying the groundwork for the Russian invasion of Crimea. Part of his consulting work, it was asserted, included influencing American news organizations and government officials to favor Russian interests and directing a cash flow of Russian money to U.S. firms.
Manafort characterized the accusations as a “canard” and claimed that he has “no Russian influences.” He has admitted, however, that he worked for the pro-Putin political party. During that time, he never registered as a foreign agent with the United States Justice Department, as is required by law.
Intercepted communications and financial transactions made by Manafort are reportedly subjects of an ongoing investigation by U.S. intelligence.
Donald Trump, Jr.
Donald Trump, Jr.’s ties with Russian interests should certainly raise eyebrows. In the weeks leading up to the election, Trump, Jr. met with pro-Russian diplomats, business people, and politicians at a think tank in France to discuss U.S.-Russian relations, specifically when it came to the Syrian civil war and the two countries’ interests in the region.
Then there’s that time in 2008 when he bragged at a real estate conference how his family’s business “sees a lot of money pouring in from Russia” and that he had traveled to the country six times in an 18-month period. If he was still operating solely as a private citizen, that’d be one thing, but we all know how well that whole “blind trust” thing is going.
Almost nobody had heard of oil industry consultant Carter Page when candidate Trump named him as one of five foreign policy advisers during an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board in March of 2016. Efforts to track down his identity revealed a subordinate-level investment banker who had once worked in Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office in the mid-2000s, but never made a name for himself. Page said that he was a crucial adviser on key transactions with Russian energy giant Gazprom (a claim his employer characterized as exaggerated), is now personally invested in the company, and as such suffered financially when the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014.
Page praised Vladimir Putin as a better leader than President Obama in June of 2016 and has been said to be “a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did.” While in Moscow last July for a speech in which he slammed the “hypocrisy” of American foreign policy, Page allegedly met with two Russians subject to U.S. sanctions — one the head of the Russian government-owned oil giant Rosneft, and the other Putin’s former chief of staff. Those meetings, along with his critical comments about the U.S., made him the subject of an FBI investigation that would result in him resigning from his unofficial role as a Trump adviser.
After Trump’s election, Page remained in headlines, however, both for a December trip to Moscow to meet, in his words, with “business leaders and thought leaders” and, more concerning, when his name was mentioned in the explosive piss party dossier published by BuzzFeed News. Last month, The New York Times reported that his communications with Russian operatives are a focus of the ongoing investigation by U.S. intelligence. Page has called any questions about his behavior a witch hunt.
Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, was mentioned by name in the piss party dossier as having met with Kremlin representatives in Prague last August in order to keep the many details about Manafort’s dealings with Russia from going public. Cohen denied the report emphatically, offering up his unopened passport as proof he had not traveled outside of the country that month.
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) January 11, 2017
Okay, so that one might be a dead end. All we’re saying though is, it would’ve been a lot more convincing if he opened the passport up!
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s personal and business relations with Russia date back to the days of the Soviet Union. As head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson helped organize a $300 billion project to drill in the Arctic that would’ve been hugely beneficial to both his company and the Russian state. Putin was so happy with the deal he famously honored Tillerson with the Order of Friendship award in 2013. The deal was halted by the aforementioned sanctions, but should he, acting in his new capacity of U.S. Secretary of State, lift those sanctions, some $500 billion in oil drilling deals with Exxon would be allowed to proceed. (Granted, Tillerson announced he divested from ExxonMobil with a most generous $180 million retirement package.)
Tillerson’s relationship with Putin and Russia became such a point of contention during his confirmation hearings, several Republican senators — most notably vocal Russian critic Marco Rubio — announced they may not vote to confirm him. Of course, they all did.
As of yet, however, there’s nothing to suggest Tillerson has acted in an inappropriate manner when it comes to his Russian investments.
Alex Jones sidekick and former Trump aide Roger Stone was named along with Manafort and Page as an official subject of the ongoing intelligence investigation. Stone became a person of interest after a speech he gave in Florida last summer where he told the crowd he had been in touch with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — not exactly a favorite of the CIA — who had been responsible for publishing the contents of DNC emails allegedly hacked by Russian agents.
Stone told the crowd Assange assured him Wikileaks was prepared to release more leaks that would hurt Clinton. Weeks later, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s hacked emails were released to the public.
Stone has said allegations he has ties to Russian intelligence are “nonsense” and “totally false.”
President Trump’s relationship with Russia has been odd for a mainstream American politician, much less a Republican one. On the campaign trail, he invited the country to launch a cyber attack on the U.S., and then they did. He swore he had no connections to Putin despite previously stating in previous years that they were very close. He seemed to protest a tad too much when Clinton called him a Russian puppet during one of the debates. He has produced beauty pageants in Moscow and has traveled to the nation-state since 1987.
And then there’s the piss dossier, parts of which have now been verified by U.S. intelligence, though not the bits that Russia has video of our president engaging in a pee pee party with Russian sex workers and is allegedly using it to blackmail him into working in their best interests. Honestly, though, it’s hard to say at this point if that would be worse for the president. How big of an idiot would you need to be to remain completely unaware that literally almost everyone around you is a Russian sleeper cell?