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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Russian snow job

by digby

I have no idea what's true and what isn't on this story. Tom does a nice job of laying it out in the post below.  I will just say that there have been a couple of elements that have always struck me as very strange in all this. The first is the involvement of Paul Manafort in the campaign which never made a lot of sense. He was known at the time of hire to be a guy who was involved with some very nefarious international figures, most recently in Ukraine and going all the way back to Ferdinand Marcos. He worked for free so it wasn't about the money and he wasn't a great friend of Donald Trump, although they had been acquaintances. His reputation was ... not good.

He is said to still be advising the campaign, although not officially. He was asked about that yesterday and he said he wasn't "active in the transition" whatever that means.

The other weird thing that has always stuck in my mind was this story:

While the original version of the Republican Party platform is not public and unavailable, news outlets reported that it contained language that included arming Ukraine in its fight against Russia. The version that passed, however, softened the language, saying America will provide "appropriate assistance" to Ukraine and "greater coordination with NATO defense planning."

When Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked Trump campaign adviser Paul Manafort about how much influence Trump in changing the platform, Manafort denied any involvement. (Read about Manafort’s connections to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians here).

Todd then asked where the idea came from, and added, "Everybody on the platform committee had said it came from the Trump campaign. If not you, who?"

Finally, Todd pressed the matter, asking if anyone on the Trump campaign wanted that change, to which Manafort answered: "No one, zero."

So did Trump and his campaign influence the change? It’s hard to know for sure, and that’s why we’re avoiding putting this question on the Truth-O-Meter. But the evidence does suggest that Trump’s campaign was involved.

Trump said in an interview on ABC that he personally had nothing to do with the change, but did not give a clear answer to whether or not his campaign was involved.

George Stephanopoulos: "Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?"

Trump: "I wasn't involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved."

Stephanopoulos: "Your people were."

Trump: "Yeah. I was not involved in that. I'd like to -- I'd have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that."

Stephanopoulos: "Do you know what they did?"

Trump: "They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved."

As you can see, Trump says, "Yeah," in response to a query that his campaign was involved. But it’s not clear if that’s the answer to a question, or just Trump filling space.

After these questions, Trump hints at why the platform may have changed .

"The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were," Trump said. 
Independent reporting does seem to undercut Manafort’s denial of any involvement.

"The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington,"  reported Josh Rogin in the Washington Post.

The column relies largely on the account of Diana Denman, a platform committee member from Texas and former Ted Cruz supporter, who proposed an amendment during a national security platform meeting to arm Ukraine against Russia. (Attempts to contact those at the meeting were unsuccessful.)

The article says that amendment was tabled after pro-Trump delegates were urged by Trump staffers to water down the provision. On Aug. 1, 2016, Rogin reiterated his point after Manafort and Trump both denied that they were involved.

In another article by Rogin, Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis weighed the costs of providing assistance to other nation states while speaking to European diplomats at the International Republican Institute.

"It’s okay to go out here and load your mouth up and say stuff and say, ‘Yeah we are going to come to your aid, we’re going to provide you arms, we’re going to come out and do all these things. But nobody has taken the time to think this through to its logical conclusion," Clovis said. "What are the costs going to be to the United States, not just in Ukraine but also in NATO and also around the world?"

Other reports from people involved in the platform process say the Trump campaign was involved.

Maine delegate Eric Brakey told the Daily Beast he supported the change, which was pushed in part by the Trump campaign.

"Some staff from the Trump campaign came in and… came back with some language that softened the platform," Brakey told the Daily Beast. "They didn’t intervene in the platform in most cases. But in that case they had some wisdom to say that maybe we don’t want to be calling… for very, very clear aggressive acts of war against Russia."
Another delegate, Rachel Hoff of Washington, D.C., told the Daily Beast that it was "my understanding that it was Trump staff," behind the change in language.

Steve Pifer, a foreign policy senior fellow and the Brookings Institute, said the United States has been directly involved with Ukraine by providing a fair amount of assistance to the country.

A Los Angeles Times article also said Trump "surrogates" intervened during the platform meeting. The other news articles about this situation site the Washington Post as evidence that Trump was involved, but it’s hard to use those news reports as evidence in this fact-check.
There were numerous stories about unnamed Trump observers --- not representative delegates, which would be normal --- at the platform committee intervening in this process, demanding changes and being on the phone the whole time getting guidance from afar. Perhaps this wouldn't have been unusual except it's reported that this is the only reported time this happened.

It struck me as weird at the time. It's true Trump was running on an anti-NATO platform and was pretty clearly seeking to completely change the world global order with a new tilt toward an American Russian alliance against Western Europe and China, with a particular anti-Muslim focus. He is so inarticulate and stupid that it was hard to sort out what he was talking about at any particular moment but when you look at the whole of his campaign it was pretty clear that this is where it was going.

But this was a very specific move to tell someone that a Trump administration would lift the economic sanctions that are biting the Russian oligarchs hard at the moment. I don't know who they were trying to tell but it wasn't the American people.

Anyway, this story isn't going away. Trump's damaged goods in so many respects it's hard to see how he's going to function. He's grotesquely corrupt and unqualified. But we knew that already. This story, as Tom illustrates below, implicates the entire Republican Party.

And it certainly raises questions about James Comey's actions in the 10 days before the election when he chose to drop his letter about the Anthony Weiner laptop so close to the election that the Clinton campaign did not have time to recover. When Comey did that he was sitting on this much bigger bombshell and chose to do something that would damage the Clinton effort. That says everything.

The possibility of Russian government interference in the election is a huge deal. If they did it with the intention of electing Trump --- and we only know this from unnamed CIA officials saying they know that the Russians also hacked the RNC and other GOP officials and those emails were never released --- I'm not sure how Trump ever recovers whatever small shred of credibility he had. This political crisis is becoming overwhelming and I'm unsure where it's going to end up.

But personally, as a civil libertarian, I remain most offended by the actions of the FBI and James Comey. He is the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country, and unlike Russians, he's sworn to uphold the constitution and be an unbiased actor in our political system. What he did was unconscionable on every level. This Russian story just adds another layer to the historic ignominy of his behavior.