Greetings from Russia
An in-depth look at the controversy that might result in the biggest political scandal in American history.
By Miguel Robles, University of Colorado Denver
At this point, it’s pretty clear to most of the American public (not to mention the world) what kind of administration Donald Trump is leading.
It is an enterprise run by a president intent on repressing dissent, fueled by fear and orchestrated by a cabinet designed to undermine the agencies they serve, all of which is happening in a fact-free bubble.
You can spin it any way you like, whether you want to call his outrages alternative facts or fake news, but the simple fact is that Trump and his yes-men have been lying since his campaign announcement back in 2015.
For Trump, lying almost seems to be second nature. Mistruths flow so easily off his tongue that critics likely struggle to tell the difference. The country has reached a terrifying moment in history wherein the president now portrays the truth as what he sees it to be.
Whether it’s stretching facts to prove a point, or a complete disregard of existing evidence, Trump has declared war on truth. In his campaign, he distorted reality to stoke the fear of the “other.” His lies ranged from an inaccurate claim of “30 million undocumented immigrants,” to the fabrication about “large Arab populations cheering as the World Trade Center came down.”
During his tenure as POTUS, the lies have served as a way to protect his ego, from claiming that his electoral victory was the largest since Reagan’s, to flat out pulling figures out of his ass, such as when he said that “drugs are cheaper than candy” and that “the U.S. is the highest taxed nation in the world.”
The implications surrounding his involvement with Russia however, are a different beast altogether. At worst, the white lies of his administration have increased division within the country, and at best are so easily dismissible that they are ineffective. But, if the investigation into his collusion with Putin turns over anything, the government is delving into impeachment territory. If Trump’s lies obstruct the investigation into Russian tampering, it won’t be a sound bite for the national media; it will be treason.
So, the question remains: Did the Trump campaign know of or support Russian interference in the election? And if so, how far up does it go?
To understand the problem fully, it helps to begin at the start.
June 14, 2016
The beginning of the media circus began on this day, when “The Washington Post” released a report titled: “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump.”
The hack was a deliberate attempt to target political organizations, which, in an unprecedented move, provided real evidence of foreign influence in an American election.
In shades of the Cold War, the hack appeared to be “traditional espionage,” as no financial information was accessed, ruling out the criminal element of hacking. In addition, the skill and resources necessary to pull off such a hack were indicative of a government-sponsored effort.
CrowdStrike, a firm whose sole mission is defending against network breaches, identified two groups, code-named “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear,” both of which are sponsored by the Russian government.
July 22, 2016
A little more than a month after the Russian hack, WikiLeaks released 20,000 private DNC emails. The emails revealed sensitive information to the public, which revealed that Democratic leadership favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, a claim so damaging that it caused the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the DNC.
DNC officials reported that the Russians were behind the breach. Despite the fact that the infamous hacker Guccifer claimed sole responsibility for the breach, there is evidence on the contrary, particularly because the hacking methods were nearly identical to those used in the previous Russian hack. In addition, Professor Thomas Rid discovered malware originating from Russian military intelligence.
After two hacks of the DNC, it became clear that the Russian attacks were designed to impact only one political party, thus helping Putin’s ideal candidate, Donald Trump, enter office.
October 7, 2016
By October, the conjecture from media sources had turned into a full-blown investigation from the highest level. On October 7, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement, announcing that the intelligence community believed that Russia was behind the recent hacks, in an effort “to interfere with the U.S. election process.”
They concluded that the hacks from WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 were consistent with “Russian-directed efforts,” as they exhibited similar techniques to ones used across Europe and Eurasia.
December 9, 2016
The joint statement got the ball rolling on the investigation into Russia’s interference into the U.S. election. At this point, in an election that would send shockwaves throughout the country and the world, Donald Trump had already been elected to the post of president of the United States.
On December 9, sitting president Barack Obama ordered an investigation into Russia’s hacking operations. In response to the previous report of Russia’s hacks, the president also addressed concerns regarding attempted attacks on voter registration systems. Shortly after, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell followed suit, announcing the Senate would open an investigation.
December 29, 2016
After the Obama administration sanctions Russia, the plot thickens. The investigation found sufficient evidence to conclude that the hacks into the Democratic Party were an effort to influence the U.S. election. In response, the president sent 35 Russian intelligence officials out of the U.S., as well as sanctioned nine other individuals and groups who were involved in the hacks.
One of the last moves by the Obama administration would serve to set the stage for the scandal the incoming administration would be implicated in.
January 15, 2017
This is when the shit officially hits the fan.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence went on national television to address claims that future National Security Advisor Michael Flynn a private citizen at the time, had discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Not only is it illegal for private citizens to influence foreign policy, but were he to have done so, the controversy would only add fuel to the fire of an administration already aflame with scandal, all before the president had even been sworn in.
Pence strongly denied the accusations about Flynn’s discussion with the ambassador about U.S. sanctions. His running mate, the President-elect, responded several days earlier to the report released by the intelligence community analyzing the Russian dossier, with a shade of vitriol unique to Trump himself:
“I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that…that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do”
February 9, 2017
Twenty days into Trump’s presidency, the administration is caught in its first major lie.
National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had in fact discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador as a private citizen. Flynn apparently urged Russia “to not overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.”
Making the situation even sketchier, the communication between Kislyak and Flynn began before Trump won the November election.
So, a private citizen, who is a key member of the Trump campaign, was negotiating foreign policy with a government known to have influenced the coming election in Trump’s favor, all before said election even takes place—something of a “smoking gun,” yes?
February 16, 2017
Three days after Michael Flynn handed in his resignation letter, Trump responded in a way only Trump would. In his first press conference as president, instead of condemning the actions of a potentially illegal act, Trump instead defended the former national security advisor, saying Flynn was “doing his job. He was calling countries…I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it.”
He then claimed he had no connections to Russia, saying, “Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years.”
If Trump thought his rambling press conference would tie off the Russian scandal with a neat little knot, he was sorely mistaken.
March 1, 2017
At this point, the man in charge of the federal investigation was newly minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Since he was part of the Trump campaign, critics questioned whether or not Sessions could be impartial in the Russian investigation.
A “Washington Post” report blew the door wide open on any semblance of Sessions’ impartiality. It turns out that, like Flynn, Sessions met with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention the previous July, as well as in a private meeting in September, when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a top member of the Trump campaign. To put this is context, Sessions, one of the highest national security advisors in Trump’s campaign, met with the Russian ambassador, who illegally discussed U.S. sanctions with Michael Flynn, during the “height of the Russian cyber campaign.”
What’s worse, like Flynn, Sessions’ testimony that he didn’t have contact with Russian officials during the 2016 election seemed to be contradicted by the evidence. Even though Sessions claimed it was an “innocent misunderstanding,” the political pressure was too severe and Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the investigation on March 3rd.
Sessions was the sixth member of the Trump team to have undisclosed contact with Russian officials. The others include Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who met with Ambassador Kislyak and Flynn in the Trump Tower back in December 2016. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, resigned following his “ties to pro-Russian elements in Ukraine.” Carter Page, a former Trump aide, and Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney, have also met with Russian ambassador Kislyak.
March 5, 2017
In true Trump fashion, when the pressure of the scandal was nearing its peak, he shifted focus onto the former president, Barack Obama. Trump tweeted an unsubstantiated claim that, while still in office President Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower for his investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.
Fitting with the typical Trump tweet, there was no evidence supporting his wiretap claim. Multiple intelligence officers denied such an occurrence, including FBI director Jamey Comey. Fortunately for Trump, a blatant lack of evidence has never been an issue, so he doubled down on his claim and ordered a federal investigation to look into the claims.
In the end, the baseless accusation seems like a desperate attempt to divert eyes from a rapidly unwinding administration. The questions are now much too big to ignore.
No longer can Americans ignore what is going on in the background of this circus-like administration. Voters, whether pro-Trump or not, need to make sure this investigation reaches an in-depth conclusion, so the country can be sure that what might be the biggest scandal in American history isn’t swept under the rug.