Lightning Round: Treasongate
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” — Vladimir Lenin
From time to time, when the news just happens too fast for us to assess issues and stories with the detail they deserve, we here at the Resistbot Policy Blog do a lightning round of hot takes on whatever happened in the last week. Or, in this case, the last 48 hours.
Obviously the elephant in the room is the Helsinki Summit at which President Trump embraced Vladimir Putin’s narrative of US/Russian relations and his denial of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Washington Post paints Trump’s approach to the summit as counter to everything his staff and advisors pushed on him. From the 100 pages of briefing materials he didn’t read to to the suggestions that he take a firm stance with Putin that he dismissed, the summit went “very much counter to the plan.”
The President’s betrayal of his intelligence apparatus, law enforcement personnel, and American interests writ large did not go over well. Even members of the Republican Party, who have historically been willing to forgive nearly anything from Trump, were outspoken against his apparent embrace of Putin.
In response, Trump made a follow-up statement on Tuesday, stating that he misspoke:
In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” … The sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.” Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that clarifies things pretty good by themselves.
In his next breath, however, the President went on to state that it could have been anyone, not just Russia — as if the indictment of 12 Russian nationals with detailed records, money trails, domain registrations, VPN endpoints and the other tools of the 2016 election hack hadn’t just dropped into the public record on Friday.
Suffice to say that very few people are buying the President’s suggestion that he “misspoke.”
Trump is still covering for Putin
In the middle of that positively Orwellian attempt to walk back his remarks in Helkiski, the President read from comments prepared for him, by his staff, and annotated in his own jagged handwriting.
One eagle-eyed twitter user noted that the prepared remarks contained a promise to bring “anyone involved in that meddling to justice” which the President had apparently crossed out and did not utter during his remarks.
Democrats want to know what happened in Helsinki
Despite everything that happened in the Helsinki press conference, what is more concerning is that Trump and Putin spent more than an hour in a one-on-one session without any note-takers or aids present. Each brought a translator but, without anyone else there to attest to the substance of the meetings, it is difficult to know exactly what the President has committed the country to do with or for Putin and Russia.
Democrats hope to bring Trump’s interpreter to Capitol Hill to offer some insight into the summit. New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen is behind the effort. Such a summons will put the translator in a bit of an ethical bind as translators typically sign non-disclosure agreements as part of their work.
I’m calling for a hearing with the U.S. interpreter who was present during President Trump’s meeting with Putin to uncover what they discussed privately. This interpreter can help determine what @POTUS shared/promised Putin on our behalf.— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) July 17, 2018
More charges for Mariia Butina
Butina, the Russia agent who orchestrated a campaign to influence the Republican Party via the National Rifle Association, was charged with “conspiracy to act as a foreign agent.” Already charged with acting as a foreign agent, Butina now faces fifteen years behind bars for her attempts “to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights … for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”
Mariia Butina’s case will be critical in understanding the scope and scale of the Russian subversion of the American Right if for no other reason that she alone, of the 13 Russians indicted so far, is actually in the country and in US custody. Rachel Maddow’s breakdown of her case is well worth a watch.
Obscure IRS rule change a boon to Russian intelligence
Within hours of Butina’s indictment for trying to buy Russian influence in the Republican Party by way of the NRA and in the middle of an ongoing FBI’s investigation into Butina’s boss for funneling Russian money to the NRA, the Trump administration relaxed rules requiring the NRA to report donor information to IRS
Among the groups that will no longer have to report donors are the National Rifle Association, various chambers of commerce, and groups focused on particular issues, such as Americans for Prosperity, which has been closely associated with the Koch brothers.
People are really upset
In a scene reminiscent of House of Cards, the avalanche of news drove protesters to the streets all over the country. Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, filled with protesters Tuesday night with more protests planned in the days to follow.
Tell Congress What You Think
Congress will not do anything about any of this unless they hear from you. Without public pressure it is unlikely that the efforts to question Trump’s translator will succeed. Without public support even the investigation of Mariia Butina will vanish into obscurity along with the Muller probe and investigation of Russian election interference. You can write to your Representatives and Senators by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to save the Republic.
This article originally headlined with an image of a mural by Mindaugas Bonanu which graces the back of a Lithuanian barbecue restaurant. The image, which satirizes a famous 1979 work by Dimitri Vrubel depicting Soviet and East German General Secretaries Leonid Brezhnev Erich Honecker in a similar embrace, pokes fun at the patron/client relationship between Putin and Trump much as Vrubel’s did the relationship between Brezhnev and Honecker.
Several readers complained that the image was homophobic, which was not the intent of the author or blog. The idea that an image of men kissing is inherently homophobic is a deeply problematic one but as it is used critically here a reader, perhaps unaware of its Cold War context, might view it as “gay shaming” ala the February 11, 2017 cover of The Economist which seems to go out of its way to hint at the fragility of masculinity and to portray Trump in a feminine role.
In contrast, we used the Bonanu mural as a shorthand for the inappropriately close relationship between Trump and Putin — inappropriate, not because they are men, but because they are (supposed to be) opponents.
In recognition of the concerns of our readers, however, we have changed the headline image. Those interested in the work of Mindaugas Bonnanu, the history of dissident art in divided Germany, or the work of Dimitri Vrubel can read more about the original piece, the parody, and the history of both here.