Opinion: 25 known facts about Trump and Russia

(AP)

If Donald Trump and his associates did nothing wrong, why did Michael Flynn lie about his actions to the FBI, thus committing a felony and ruining his life and career? The only reason that I can think of to lie to the FBI is to cover up something bigger.

So what’s that “something bigger?” I have my suspicions, but I do not know. So let’s take a breath and focus on the things that we do know, the things that are already on the public record not as allegations or speculation, but as facts. They are extensive, and they are compelling:

1.) We know that Russia attempted to intervene in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, most effectively by hacking and then strategically leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Should it become necessary, establishing the fact of Russian interference in a court of law would not be difficult. You merely bring in the head of the CIA, the head of the FBI and the director of national intelligence to testify about their agencies’ joint conclusion.

2.) We know that somehow, by design or accident, the Trump presidential campaign ended up as the most pro-Russian political operation since the heyday of the American Communist Party. In addition to Flynn, there’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump acolytes Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, and aides Sam Clovis and Carter Page, all of whom had contacts, business histories, affiliations with or even affection for Russia. At the middle of that circle stands Trump himself, with a long history of reliance on Russian investors in his real-estate projects and a fanboy’s adoration of Vladimir Putin.

3.) We know that the Trump campaign was very much aware that Russia was interfering on its behalf, and welcomed it. Among other proof, we have an email sent to Donald Trump Jr. explicitly offering dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian sources “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” You can’t get more explicit than that.

4.) We know that Trump Jr. reacted to that email not with surprise or even caution, but with open encouragement to the Russians.  “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. wrote in response.

5.) We know that as a result of that email chain, Trump Jr. set up a secret, undisclosed meeting in July 2016 among himself, Manafort, Jared Kushner and a group of Russians offering help. Initially, Trump Jr. had denied ever setting up such meetings, “certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.” After that lie was exposed, the Trump campaign admitted that the meeting had occurred, but claimed that it concerned Russian policy on the adoption of children and had nothing at all to do with the campaign.

6.) We know that second explanation was also a massive lie. We also know that particular lie was drafted and released at the personal insistance of President Trump.

7.) We know that Trump himself openly, publicly encouraged Russia to help him by digging up more Clinton emails. He also publicly embraced and encouraged Wikileaks.

8.) We know that Wikileaks and Julian Assange were serving as a willing conduit and co-conspirator for Russia’s attempts to undermine Clinton and elevate Trump. “The guy is a sycophant for Russia,” as Paul Ryan described Assange. “He leaks, he steals data, and compromises national security.”

9.) We know that Trump Jr. was in personal contact with Wikileaks.

10.) We know that the Trump campaign not only communicated with but responded to Wikileaks. We know that because 15 minutes after Wikileaks sent a message to Trump Jr. in October of 2016, urging the campaign to publicize its hacked material about Clinton, this message went out from the candidate himself:

11.) We know that the Trump campaign and transition team understood that such Russia contacts were wrong and needed to be hidden. We know that because over and over again, they issued blanket denials that any such contacts had taken place, and all of those denials have of course been proved false. As CNN tallies it, “Trump’s aides and associates had at least 19 face-to-face meetings with Russians or people affiliated with the Russian government during the presidential campaign and transition,” plus another 32 documented contacts via other means.  For those keeping score at home, that’s zero claimed meetings or contacts, compared to 51 documented meetings or contacts. I suspect, but do not know, that the number of 51 will continue to grow.

12.) We know that Donald Trump personally intervened in the Oval Office with FBI Director James Comey, pressuring him not to prosecute Flynn. While Trump denies that charge, Comey cites extensive notes taken directly after that intervention, and also told others about the event immediately after it occurred. Such evidence from an FBI official would be given great credence in court.

13.) We know that after Comey brushed aside that request to go easy on Flynn, Trump fired him.

14.) We know that Trump has said point-blank, in public, that he fired Comey in hopes it would end the Russia investigation. We know that he even celebrated with Russian officials in the Oval Office the morning after the Comey firing, telling them that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

15.) We know that Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, is now arguing that as president, Trump cannot legally be charged with obstructing justice for actions such as firing Comey. Basically, Dowd seems to be abandoning the claim of Trump’s innocence and retreating to a claim of executive immunity. Given the evidence above, that’s not a stupid strategy.

16.) We know that on Dec. 29, 2016, after the U.S. intelligence community made public its conclusions about Russian meddling in our election, President Obama issued a new set of punitive sanctions against Russia, including the ouster of 35 Russian diplomats and the closure of a 45-acre Russian compound in Maryland used as a vacation site by the Russian embassy. Obama got strong bipartisan support for those measures.

17.) We know that on that same day, Dec. 29, Flynn had a flurry of five undisclosed conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

18.) We know that after the disclosure of those calls, Flynn, Vice President Pence and other Trump officials denied vehemently that the issue of anti-Russian sanctions had come up, even though they had just been toughened hours earlier. According to the White House, Flynn and Kislyak had merely exchanged Christmas greetings and made arrangements for a later telephone conversation between Putin and Trump.

19.) We know those assurances to have been false, that in fact Flynn had urged Kislyak not to react to the sanctions by the Obama administration because they would be reversed once Trump took power. In effect, Flynn had undercut U.S. policy by taking all the sting out of the punishments that had been imposed by Obama, again with strong bipartisan support.

20.) We know that the next day, Putin took the secret advice from Flynn and announced that Russia would not retaliate. Trump immediately and publicly lauded Putin for doing so:

21.) We know that once the nature of Flynn’s discussions became public, the Trump administration tried to dismiss his actions as the work of a rogue employee who was operating without approval or knowledge from Trump or his top staff.

22.) After Friday’s court filings, we know that Flynn had not gone rogue, that the Trump transition team had been fully aware of and even directed Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. Flynn’s firing was not a punishment for lying — if they started doing that at the Trump White House, the place would be empty by nightfall. Instead, Flynn got pushed overboard to save more senior officials.

23.) We know that after taking office, the Trump administration did indeed begin to try to reverse the sanctions imposed by Obama against Russia, just as Flynn had suggested to Kislyak. For example, Trump almost immediately moved to return that Maryland vacation retreat to Russian control, but was scared off by strong bipartisan backlash.

24.) We know that the Republican Congress so distrusts Trump on that count that in August it passed legislation barring the president from giving back that vacation retreat unless he first gets permission from Congress. That provision was included in a larger sanctions bill that also tightened punishment of Russia as well as Iran.

25.) We know that President Trump wanted to veto that sanctions bill because he deemed it too harsh on Russia. He did not do so because the bill had passed with just two “no” votes in the Senate — Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders — and just three in the House. So rather than have his veto overridden, Trump signed it into law and since then has refused to implement it.

So, based on the facts as laid out above, where do we now stand?

I think we have a strong, even ironclad case for what you might call “soft collusion.” The evidence is overwhelming that Trump repeatedly signaled to Russia, both privately and publicly, that he wanted Russian election help and that if elected president, he would pursue a much more pro-Putin, pro-Russia policy. For their part, Russian officials clearly understood that by helping Trump and undermining Clinton, they would advance their own national goals at the expense of the United States.

Both sides got their way.

Based on their extensive, incredible record of lying and deception, I think it’s also safe to conclude that Trump and his top aides knew full well that what they were doing was scandalous on a historic scale. They just didn’t account for the biggest flaw in their plan, which is they might actually win, and that winning in turn would put their actions under a very harsh microscope.

“Hard collusion” — defined as not just a shared understanding but an actual agreement, with explicit coordination and cooperation between the two sides– will be more difficult to prove and I think is probably unlikely, if for no other reason than it was so unnecessary. The biggest factor arguing in favor of hard collusion and the evidence to prove it would be the comic incompetence of the Trump camp, which is not to be underestimated.

We also have no real feel for how deeply the Mueller team is probing the financial structure of the Trump empire and that of Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon and others, including potential financial dependence on Russia. That continues to be a true dark hole in this investigation, but I have to imagine that FBI accountants are prowling around in that dark hole with high-powered flashlights, and who knows what they’ve found so far.

Finally, as I wrote back in May, the evidence of obstruction of justice in an effort to hide this “soft collusion” is already more than sufficient to support impeachment. What we continue to lack is the political will necessary to drive that process, but as Trump’s poll numbers decline, as concerns grow about his basic stability and as Republicans begin to come to grips with the damage that he’s doing to them, that will slowly change.

Reader Comments 0

1535 comments
Kathy
Kathy

Snake oil salesmen.  With those poor memories maybe its time to retire.

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

If you are ashamed to post out loud that you support Roy Moore stop supporting him then.  You can't have it both ways, cry me a river

ByteMe
ByteMe

 15.) We know that Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, is now arguing that as president, Trump cannot legally be charged with obstructing justice for actions such as firing Comey. Basically, Dowd seems to be abandoning the claim of Trump’s innocence and retreating to a claim of executive immunity. Given the evidence above, that’s not a stupid strategy.

It's not stupid, except it implicitly acknowledges that he did indeed attempt to obstruct justice.  For a lawyer, that's not a great strategy.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Surelyyoujest @ByteMe sooooo, if you have a client guilty as sin, you just say "executive immunity!" instead of actually defending him.  


ok. sounds like a plan. 

gotalife
gotalife

What next cons?


Bestiality for the senate?

elgrunir
elgrunir

Why not?

They’ll point out that Jesus rode a donkey.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@gotalife As long as there's an (R) after his name, the beast deserved it.

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

 _GodlessHeathen_ 1 hour ago

@StraightNoChaser Does that explain all the pedophile accusations against Moore?


If this is not the comment from a supporter and defender of Roy Moore I would like to know what it is.  Yep, all day long.  I stand by what I said.

Surelyyoujest
Surelyyoujest

@StraightNoChaser  I do not support Roy Moore, period; not today, not yesterday, and certainly not tomorrow.  However, "all the pedophile accusations"?  Isn't there just one accusation of underage touching, the first one mentioned by Ms. Corfman, from 40 years ago?  Were not the others over the age of consent?  Or are y'all bunching anyone under 18 as a "pedophile" victim?

Kamchak
Kamchak

@Surelyyoujest

I do not support Roy Moore, period; not today, not yesterday, and certainly not tomorrow.  However

LOL!

That "However" negates all that came before it, sport.

Just sayin'.

ByteMe
ByteMe

For those not old enough to remember:


The Watergate break-in happened in the summer of 1972.  It took until August 1974 for Nixon to finally lose support of enough of the Republican Party to have to resign.

Kamchak
Kamchak

@ByteMe

That was the second term election for Nixon. Arguably, Nixon's support was well entrenched unlike Trump's.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@ByteMe Trump isn't smart enough to resign.  He'll have to be forced out. 

ByteMe
ByteMe

@LogicalDude So far, the vast majority of the Republican herd aren't smart enough to see the cliff coming.

Corey
Corey

"Psychiatric knowledge and terminology will save reporters and the public from remaining confused and attempting to find explanations of behavior that could easily be understood if Trump's paranoid character were always kept in mind. This is the only way to ensure the preservation and viability of our democracy and our national security." - Henry J. Friedman, M.D., Associate Professor Harvard School of Medicine.  

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Is Kushner still employed by our United States?


You'd think someone who omitted a bunch of meetings that should have been on the standard form would be shown the door by now.  But then, he is a son-in-law to the President, so, it's not about how you do your job, but who you know in high places. amirite!?

gotalife
gotalife

What else does putin want from trump is the question.

elgrunir
elgrunir

They’ll elope in Guam 🇬🇺 and live in Mother Russia 🇷🇺.

Kamchak
Kamchak

I predict that guilty dog will keep barkin'.

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

If you are actually throwing your support behind Roy Moore that is not an accusation, that's a fact so no one is accusing you of supporting a pedophile @_GodlessHeathen_  you are, just for the record.

_GodlessHeathen_
_GodlessHeathen_

@StraightNoChaser @_GodlessHeathen_ 

So you couldn't find a statement of mine supporting Moore.

You posted the stupid meme.  I demonstrated how stupid it was by turning it around.

Your cognitive skills are lacking and you go on tilt to cover for it.

Thanks for the entertainment.

Roswellteacher
Roswellteacher

If I were Putin, I would not perform my end of the bargain (hack the election) solely on Trump's promise to keep his end of the bargain later.  Who would trust a promise from Trump?  What's to stop Trump from treating Russia any way he wants after he gets into office?  Putin can't take back the hacking, and he can't take back the election result. 


If I were Putin, hmmm...  I would have made sure I had some kind of leverage on Trump to ensure he sticks to the bargain, before I ever hacked the election.  And given how many lesser scandals seem to slide off Trump like grease off a Teflon skillet, the blackmailable dirt I have on Trump would have to be big.





stefpe
stefpe

@Roswellteacher Meh. If you were Putin, hacking the election would have benefits regardless of whether trump upholds his end of the bargain or not.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Roswellteacher Putin's goal is to destabilize America and reduce its global reach and influence.


Internal strife preventing us from addressing serious issues?  check.


Make sure the person in charge is a friend of Russia who will gut the State Department and reduce American influence abroad?  check.


Create uncertainty the backbone of Democracy -- elections -- by creating uncertainty and legal jeopardy around the candidates who ran?  check.


All Putin needed was a willing American public.  Check.



LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@ByteMe @Roswellteacher I mean, has Trump done *anything* in the best interest of NATO to protect it from Russian influence?  (US included in NATO here) 

ByteMe
ByteMe

@LogicalDude Arguably, Trump hasn't done anything in the best interest of America yet.


He's done some things that will short-term make a shrinking white minority feel better, but in the long run it turns out to be counter to what will make America competitive with the rest of the world in the future.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Kamchak Trump will claim that the pee-pee tapes are pieced together from his Apprentice out-takes.....