Day: May 19, 2017

Shared goals, not collusion

President Trump is denouncing the Special Counsel appointed yesterday to investigate Russian influence on the US election as the worst “witch hunt” in American history. A master of the false superlative, he claims to be the worst-treated politician in history.

He is also denying any collusion between himself and the Russians. Oddly, I think this may be true. The search for a smoking gun that proves they were in it together may well be a mistake. Trump and Putin shared goals: they wanted to defeat Hillary Clinton, they wanted to improve relations between Washington and Moscow, they wanted to end American commitments to democratization abroad, to limit freedom at home, to fight “violent Islamic extremism,” and to make a lot of money while enjoying public office. There really is no need for collusion when two people understand each other so well. Look at these photographs and videos of Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak in the Oval Office (all made available by the Russians, as the American press wasn’t allowed in).

These are men who are genuinely enjoying each other and their common enterprise, not people colluding. It should be no surprise that Trump shared with his Russian pals classified information. Why not, as he said later?

That is the problem: shared goals, not collusion. I witnessed a good deal of this in Wednesday’s hearing on the Balkans. The chair of the committee I testified to is California Republican Rohrabacher, who made it clear repeatedly that he saw nothing wrong with Russian behavior in the Balkans or elsewhere. Why shouldn’t they seek influence, he asked? We claim they interfere in the Balkans, but don’t we?

The answer is no, there is no comparison between Russian behavior and American democratization/rule of law funding through the National Endowment for Democracy or the International Republican and National Democratic Institutes. Russia’s interference has lately included organizing a coup attempt in Montenegro, flooding the Balkans media with blatant disinformation generated by Russia Today and Sputnik News, as well as financing paramilitary groups, renting mobs, and disrupting parliament in Macedonia.

Warned long ago by the FBI that he was the target of Russian intelligence recruitment efforts, Rohrabacher is the congressman whom a colleague cited, jokingly or not is unclear, as receiving payments from Moscow, along with Trump. As for Rohrabacher, I doubt there is any need for payments: he seems sincerely committed to Russia’s perspective on the world and genuinely appreciative of Moscow’s interests.

I have no evidence to confirm or deny the allegation with respect to Trump, only the sense from reading too much about Trump’s real estate transactions that Moscow knows how to reward people without leaving much of a trail. It would be remarkably easy, and illegal, for a foreign government to put money into an American politician’s campaign funds by using a US citizen cut-out, or to ensure that she gets higher than market value for property she sells. Allegations against Trump along those lines are not difficult to find.

Newly appointed Special Counsel Mueller knows these things and can be relied upon to investigate thoroughly. But I hope he doesn’t waste much time looking for the smoking gun that demonstrates collusion. Trump as a candidate and president has not hidden his appreciation for Moscow and its help during the election campaign, when he appealed for the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. The key here is common objectives. People can avoid collusion easily if they share goals.

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