Sunday, December 9, 2018
This was probably the high point of Trump's week -- tossing the coin at the annual Army-Navy game this weekend. The coin toss was the only thing Navy won in that game, as Army stuffed the Midshipmen in a 17-10 win, capping off another great season.
It's been a rocky ride for the President ever since the midterm elections. There's been a lot of talk the new Democrat-led House committees will open up investigations of everything from his tax returns to his complicity in the Khashoggi murder to the never-ending Russian probe. By all accounts, Special Counsel Mueller is closing in on the Trump family and many expect indictments to be handed to members of the Trump family, namely Donnie Jr. and Jared. This has the President resorting to twitter to plead his case once again to the American people in all caps - NO COLLUSION!
I don't know how much of this is wish fulfillment or that Mueller finally has the goods on the Trumps. He's been working on this investigation since May 17, 2017, and a lot of folks are getting anxious for something big to come from it. There have been 36 indictments handed down, many of them to Russian nationals who will never see an American court. However, the biggest indictments thus far have been Flynn, Manafort and Cohen, all of whom have cooperated with the investigation to one degree or another.
Manafort has been a bit of an odd case, as he apparently tried to act as a mole for the Trump White House in the investigation, but Mueller seemed to catch on early enough to use him against Trump. The whole thing blew up last week when Mueller officially charged Manafort for lying to investigators once again. Manafort could face the rest of his life in jail.
Time and again, the Trump White House has tried to tamper with the investigation, which in itself is a crime. Mueller wants more than that, however, focusing to a large degree on a campaign meeting that took place in Trump Tower between members of his campaign and Russian operatives back in June, 2016. Cohen stated that Manafort, who was head of the campaign at that time, was joined by Donnie Jr. and Jared. The aim was to gain damaging information on Hillary Clinton, which the Russian operatives claimed they had. Soon after, damaging leaks were revealed on Wikileaks from the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Manafort had worked extensively with Russian and Russian-backed political figures in Eastern Europe, and had ties to Kremlin officials. It seems Manafort was trying to use the same tactics in the 2016 presidential campaign that he used so effectively in the Ukraine 2010 presidential campaign, which the Russian-backed candidate, Viktor Yanykovych won. In this earlier election lies the contempt which Russia would later harness to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
Russia felt Yanukovych won the election fair and square, but when Ukranians revolted in the 2014 Euromaiden protests, the Russian-backed oligarch was forced to step down. Russia responded by forcibly annexing Crimea a few weeks later, inciting a civil war that continues in the Donbass region of the country.
Putin never hid his contempt for Obama, and immediately went to work finding a way to undermine the American political system after the American president imposed sanctions on Russia. In Putin's mind, the revolution in Kiev was nothing more than a political coup sponsored by the United States. So, he plotted a coup of his own.
Trump would not seem the obvious choice for your Trojan Horse, but the guy owed Russian oligarchs big money. The Donald could no longer get building loans through American banks, so he sought financial backers overseas. One of the projects that has now arisen is a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen says a letter of intent was signed in October, 2015, after Trump had declared his candidacy earlier that year. For decades, Russian oligarchs had been laundering their money through Trump properties and I guess they wanted to have a Trump Tower of their own. The Donald was more than willing to put his name on it as he had similar ventures in other countries.
Where Trump failed in real estate, he succeeded in franchising his name. He had very limited responsibility in these developments as they were being carried out by others. It didn't matter if they failed, like the condo in Tampa, the only thing he had at stake was his name. I suppose this was the way he felt about the proposed Moscow tower.
Only now it is coming back to haunt him like the ghost of Christmas past. It's not so much the tower as the fact that he was actively engaging with Russian oligarchs during his presidential campaign, and at the very least was in communication with Dmitry Peskov, the offical Kremlin spokesman. Of course, Peskov brushes the e-mails off, but what emerges is a sordid picture of Moscow essentially buying Trump, much like they had bought Yanukovych and other candidates throughout Eastern Europe.
Russia loves working with oligarchs because they are easy to manipulate. These wealthy men also seem to be appealing to the public, which naively thinks these successful businessmen can clean up government. In this sense, Trump was an obvious choice. He was widely portrayed as a successful real estate developer, eminently capable of commanding the air waves as he had done for years on The Apprentice and his earlier forays into politics. He just needed someone close to Moscow to manage him. Enter Paul Manafort.
It all seems so clear on the surface but you have to have proof, which is why so many persons are counting on Robert Mueller to deliver the goods in his final report. Trump seems more worried than ever judging by his flood of tweets the past few days on the Russian probe. It even seems the Kremlin is willing to sell him out, as their main aim all along was to disrupt the American political system, buying Russia time to secure Crimea and other geopolitical interests around the Black Sea. For Putin, this is a chess game, and Trump was never anything more than a chess piece, which he effectively used against Obama and his would-be successor Hillary Clinton.
Trump can revel in the great college football rivalry, but underneath he is seething. He has been played by Putin and at this point there is nothing he can really do about it. The only question is how ugly all these revelations will become in the coming in the months, and at what point he is forced to admit the game is over.