If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”
As Americans, we suspend our disbelief more than we like to admit. We give more benefit of the doubt than is warranted. The fact is, we can’t know everything. Few of us know what President Obama thought when he capitulated in budget negotiations. Instead we take what we know, combine it with what we think, and make an interpretation. As an informed, somewhat overeducated teacher, I am familiar with how short these interpretations often fall. When people talk about education, I’m struck less by their opinions than their complete lack of information on well-studied issues.
With the exception of birthers and other truthers, we have enjoyed the luxury of believing that we know what’s happening. The media usually makes enough information available so that we can construct a reasonable approximation of the truth. We knew enough to understand previous presidents pretty well before their election. Bill Clinton’s attraction to “bimbos” was known. George W. Bush wasn’t a deep thinker or particularly knowledge, but personally, he was a nice enough guy. His feckless tenure was no surprise. Obama’s terms in office were not particularly surprising either. Donald Trump, however, is one of a kind. Lying compulsively, preferring no negative to no attention, completely unconcerned with social or political norms, Trump has revealed a lot about himself, but little of his finances and business dealings.
Due to his unpublished tax returns, his business dealings remain largely unknown, particularly those related to Russia, are cause for concern. Coupled with his unwarranted affection for Vladimir Putin and the association of people in his organization with the Russian autocrat and his allies, there are a major questions about Trump and his relationship to Russia.
Trumps ties to Russian business dealings are extremely complex and opaque, but well-documented. His daughter may have vacationed with Vladimir Putin’s girlfriend. (There’s no question she vacationed with the woman, but there’s no public documentation of the woman’s relationship with Putin). Years ago, Trump’s son noted the large amount of business the Trump organization received from Russia. Business certainly seems to have something to do with the Trump-Russia connection.
Enter the Russian Dossier.
Developed by former MI-6 spook Christopher Steele, first for Trump’s Republican primary, and then for his Democratic opponent. The dossier had been kicking around for months in Washington. Steele was so concerned about the intelligence within that he brought it to FBI Director James Comey, who (in)famously never mentioned an alleged investigation into its contents. The dossier so concerned John McCain that he physically walked it to Comey and hand-delivered it to him. Both Obama and Trump were briefed on the dossier in the closing days of the Obama presidency. Without rehashing the entire Clinton email investigation, it seems clear that the dossier deserved more attention than it received.
Reactions to the Russian Dossier varied, and coverage eventually petered out as Trump was inaugurated and new craziness ensued. The media didn’t really know what to do with the story. Although the dossier had been floating around for months, and David Corn wrote about it in Mother Jones media coverage was scant and very late in the election season.
Buzzfeed finally published the whole thing and caused a minor stir in the press. Eric Wemple, reacting like Miss Manners at a fake fart festival, complained that the dossier was “unverified” and shouldn’t have been released. Follow Wemple’s logic, traced to its assumptions, is based on the belief that readers should only be exposed to information screened by the media. On the other hand, ProPublica chief Richard Tofel, on the other hand, argued that it would perhaps lead to more information coming forward.
The story is barely alive, which is a shame. Trump’s connection to Russia deserves much, much more scrutiny that it has received. There have also been, if not developments, related stories. Russia has charged four of its agents with treason in relation to cyber security and hacks. Another ex-KGB agent thought to be associated with the dossier was found dead in Moscow.
At this point, I should say that I’m a skeptic, offended by conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and quack medicine. What I’m talking about here isn’t a conspiracy theory, which is based, not on evidence, but a lack of it. At best, what I’m offering here is a hypothesis. There is more than enough information to warrant a vigorous investigation into Trump’s and his campaign’s connection to Russia
A column in The Business Insider offers a theory of the case: President Trump will use his executive influence to lift trade sanctions on Russia allowing the sale of oil and bringing in billions to Russia’s formerly state-owned oil company. In return, Trump will receive an interest in the now private company.
While the United States media was more concerned about the publication of the dossier and allegations of urolagnia (yep, there’s a scientific term for it) than a less salacious, more likely possibility.
A dossier with unverified claims about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia contained allegations that Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russia’s state oil company, offered former Trump ally Carter Page and his associates the brokerage of a 19% stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions on Russia.
The dossier says the offer was made in July, when Page was in Moscow giving a speech at the Higher Economic School. The claim was sourced to “a trusted compatriot and close associate” of Sechin, according to the dossier’s author, former British spy Christopher Steele.
“Sechin’s associate said that the Rosneft president was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft,” the dossier said. “In return, Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.”
Four months before the intelligence community briefed Trump, then-President Barack Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and the nation’s top lawmakers on the dossier’s claims — most of which have not been independently verified but are being investigated by US intelligence agencies — a US intelligence source told Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff that Sechin met with Page during Page’s three-day trip to Moscow. Sechin, the source told Yahoo, raised the issue of the US lifting sanctions on Russia under Trump.
Page was an early foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. He took a “leave of absence” in September after news broke of his July trip to Moscow, and the campaign later denied that he had ever worked with it.
Page, for his part, was “noncommittal” in his response to Sechin’s requests that the US lift the sanctions, the dossier said. But he signaled that doing so would be Trump’s intention if he won the election, and he expressed interest in Sechin’s offer, according to the document.
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump suggested the sanctions could be lifted if Moscow proved to be a useful ally. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us,” Trump asked, “why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”
It would be easier to pretend this story is too far-fetched to believe. It certainly reads like a LeCarre novel. Yet something funny is going on with Trump and Russia. As Churchill said in a different context, Russia is a riddle wrapped in mystery wrapped in a terribly confusing story of leaks, showers, and spies. The same could be said for Donald Trump.