THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
By Harry C. Blaney III
The perspective from London: the news that both the Director of the FBI James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency Admiral Mike Rogers have confirmed two key points has given some light here on America’s own disarray: the most important revelation is that of Comey in affirming that an investigation of the connection between the Trump team and Russia is taking place. The other statement by the NSA head, at the congressional committee, is that they could not find any evidence that Obama or his administration called for a wiretap on Trump Tower and affirmed that such a request would be illegal by Obama or any president. This severely undercut the Trump White House assertion that such wiretapping was ordered. They are looking at whether there was any collusion between Trump’s team and Russia to influence the election.
Russian Interference in the 2016 election is the other key issue and the need to look more at this seem on the agenda and will have still public profile until more if revealed and this is also a finding which Trump fears.
Here in London this Russian connection story was given wide coverage especially on BBC News and in the quality newspapers. The question was also raised here whether the Trump unproved accusations that the UK GCHQ, the counterpart of the American NSA, had spied on the Trump camp. This only added to the unease about American leadership. The GCHQ stated that any idea of their spying was nonsense. In fact, at the US House Intelligence hearings on these issues, the NSA head confirmed that such an order was expressly counter to the so-call “5 eyes” of nations with special access to and sharing of intelligence information, and was contrary to its firm rules and no such order was ever given.
With all of that, the White House totally denied any reality of collusion with Russia and stood on their untenable positions, with no indication of any apology or refutation of the now totally denied chargers.
With the affirmation of the FBI Trump-Russian connection inquiry, the possibility of some connection between the Trump people and Russian, before the election and before taking office grows more worrisome. It is clear that something odd was at work in that Trump’s staff. The Trump associates did approach the Russians before the election and that the former NSC head Flynn felt he had to lie to the American Vice president about his talk to the Russian Ambassador. Also US intelligence did report that at least 3 or possibly more members of the Trump team also had contacts with Russians. There were also hints that some of these Russians were from Russian intelligence agencies.
Another disheartening news for Europe is that Secretary of State will not be coming to the forthcoming NATO Council meeting of Foreign Ministers and news reports confirm that he supports the drastic cutting of the State Department and USAID budget which will cost million of vulnerable lives. This only adds to the unease here in Europe and brightens Putin’s efforts to divide the West.
One other element is that UK Prime Minister May has set Wednesday March 27th as the date she will invoke Article 50 to leave the EU. This plays into also Putin’s goals and it seems, that the British right-wing is in its ascendancy and the Labour Party here is in even more disarray than earlier which is saying a great deal given its critical internal turmoil. There seems, as noted before, a rush of the lemmings over the clef.
Finally, the combination of Trump fighting with our allies and pushing, it seems, for their disunity, along with the UK Prime Minister May also on board with the Brexit plunge into even greater isolationism and nationalism, add also lurking economic crisis upon actual breakup. One then must mix in the ascendancy in Europe of the Alt-Right-neo-Fascist parties and groups, despite the Dutch vote, along with the factor of Putin’s Russia playing a not so secret effort to weaken and divide Europe and undermine democracy, result: we have a very dangerous landscape.
All this exacerbated by a very foolish, uninformed, and clearly malevolent man. Not a very good picture for those that prize peace, democracy and security. The costs here are too great to imagine.
More in the coming days from Europe and it’s “discontents” and America’s role in all this.
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By: Harry C. Blaney III
The Trump press conference today was a shambles for both Trump and honesty and transparency in politics. His main target seemed to be the press and the intelligence community. Part of the conference was spent trying to put aside any criticism of self-dealing. However, with his family still in total control of his assets and the Trump Organization, the President-Elect will continue to face criticism and lingering questions about conflicts of interest. Trump also declared his company would not make any more “significant” foreign deals, but the tone and substance of these decisions would give an informed citizen a deep concern for our nation’s direction if closely examined.
He took on, as expected, the intelligence community on the leaked reports that alleged Russia had personal dirt on him. Trump made his anger clear and seemed to threaten the intelligence community. He denied that the report was leaked by his staff and painted it as the work of his political opponents. He said his intelligence community appointees would provide a report on foreign hacking but did not address the deeper question of his relationship with these agencies once president.
But from what he did say, and what he implied, that relationship will be strained. This is then likely to be a weak point for our larger security strategy as an ignorant president will be uninformed of vital realities in our complex and conflict filled world by agencies with which he is in open conflict.
He would not answer the question if any of his staff or family had any contact with the Russian authorities during the campaign or after the election. Regarding Russia and Putin, he acknowledged that they had conducted hacking, but pointed much more to China and non-state actors as a major source of hacking. He deflected any questions on Putin’s support for his candidacy. He said, in effect, he could handle Putin and hope to gain his cooperation, but would defend US and fight to protect American interests. As Trump defined it, a good personal relationship with the Russian President would be an asset rather than a liability. He also tweeted that he had no business interests in Russia.
A good portion of the news conference was taken up by a Trump Organization lawyer outlining the means by which he was going to disassociate himself from conflicts by turning his assets over to his two adult sons!
He said the US government defenses against cyberwarfare were weak under Obama and with the Democratic Party, and he would make government defenses strong. Just how was not stated except he would bring in the best people.
But as we have seen over the last two years, much of his statements were vague and discombobulated even contradictory. He did not really answer many of the questions asked. He mostly made a pitch of why he was so great and all would be just wonderful and repeated many of his slogans from the campaign and tweeter posts. There were almost no specifics on many key issues except he still held that Mexico would pay for the wall and hinted at taxes against Mexico, but the wall would start without money from Mexico. Trump justified this change by noting he wants to begin construction immediately and not wait “a year and a half” to conclude negotiations with Mexico first.
Nuclear issues and climate change were largely ignored to the detriment of the conference providing insight on these issues as nuclear security is one of the critical issues for our nation and world and the same can be said about climate change.
Hang on to your hats readers this is going to be a difficult four years.
After the press conference I was reminded of the poet’s Alfred Lord Tennyson’s lines: “Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.”
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TODAY OBAMA LEARNED THE EXTENT OF RUSSIAN HACKING TO UNDERMINE OUR
DEMOCRACY AND LIKELY MONDAY UNCLASSIFIED REPORT BY OBAMA WITH SENATE HEARINGS TODAY
By Harry C. Blaney III
Today President Obama was briefed on and received the intelligence community’s CLASSIFIED report of Russia’s hacking of Democratic officials and likely other US hacking activities especially aimed to influence the 2016 presidential elections. It is reported that the unclassified version will be released possibly Monday and Obama will brief our citizens on its content and its import and possibly US actions.
Already on Capital Hill hearings are taking place on this subject with the Republican Senate leadership adamantly opposing a separate investigation and bipartisan committee to look into the issue. In the hearings the intelligence heads today have made clear, on an unclassified basis, that Russia did the hacking and it was aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election outcome and it was ordered by the highest levels of the Russian government.
The witnesses included Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers and Marcel Lettre, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Russian cyberattacks or hacking during the 2016 election as well addressing the greater cyber threat Russia poses to the U.S.
There was concern about this action by both Republican and Democratic members. Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, brought up the Watergate scandal and cited the congressional investigation that followed. “It is my hope that this Congress is willing to stand in a bipartisan way…as the Congress did in 1974.” Kaine talked about how he was a victim of fake news during the election and criticized Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has promoted some of those stories.
On the Republican side Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, asked Clapper if there’s a difference between espionage and Russian hacking. Clapper said that espionage “implies passive collection,” but the hacking is “activist.” Sen Graham said. “If we don’t throw rocks, we’re going to make a huge mistake.” “It’s time now not to throw pebbles, but to throw rocks,” ….. “Putin’s up to no good; he’s got to be stopped. Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people you can be skeptical, but you have to understand they’re the best among us.” When asked later, why we did not retaliate for espionage fully Clapper said “If we’re going to punish each other for acts of espionage, that’s a different policy issue.”
When Clapper talked about Russia’s “multifaceted campaign” against the U.S. He said, for example that RT, funded by the Russian government, was “very, vert active in promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc.” Further, Clapper added that Russia used RT, social media, fake news. “They exercised all of those capabilities in addition to the hacking. The totality of that effort, not only as DNI, but as a citizen, is a grave concern.”
The exchange in the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing was clear as to who did the hacking and beyond with Director Clapper noting that “Hacking was only part of it,” he added told the panel that “It also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation and fake news.”
The question before both Obama, and now soon, Donald Trump is what will be done about the action or any repeat of such activities? So far Trump and his team seem to throw doubt and disparagement upon the entire Russia hacking effort against the Democrats.
The question that needs to be asked and will be taken up next week by this blog, is what President Obama will say about what needs to be done and the import of these actions for American democracy, and not least, shortly a statement by Trump “after briefing on this issue by our intelligence people, our thoughts whether if Trump is protecting himself or our nation as president!
So far my judgement, contrary to some commentators like in the Washington Post today (“Could Trump be playing Russia?” by the conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt), that it is Trump playing a game on Putin. My bet is the other way around by far, as the evidence shows Trump is ignorant of Russian realities, ignores facts, and seems to put “relations with Putin” and his own ego ahead of national interests and use of smart diplomacy including understanding the U.S. intelligence findings and its consequences.
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