Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Russia thing just got more interesting—and less

"No Puppet Man That's Illegal" by QhaZomb at DeviantArt.

That was Thursday, and then on Thursday night a new angle from the Washington Post on the five (5!) telephone calls General Michael Flynn had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 29, just after President Obama slapped Russia with a new set of sanctions and diplomatic expulsions, in retaliation for Russia's evident interference with the US presidential contest. And the day before President Putin startled the world by quixotically declining to retaliate against the retaliation (just a few hours after Foreign Minister Lavrov had announced the opposite), a behavior so weird nobody could come up with a case of its having happened before.

The new story being that, according to nine (9!) current or former senior officials at various departments at the time the calls were made, Flynn and Kislyak talked during the calls about the sanctions, and Flynn seemed to be making

an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from
them. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Of course we had been assuming this was the case all along, only we didn't have any evidence other than what the hell else would they be talking about that particular day? ("What are you doing New Year's...")

Flynn, as you'd expect, denied on Wednesday, twice, that he had discussed the sanctions with Kislyak at all, then on Thursday allowed that he might have mentioned them without remembering it. He is utterly guilty of that and probably of lying about it to Vice President Pence and everybody else.

Then yesterday, it was reported here and there that certain anonymous US law enforcement and intelligence investigators have confirmed that at least some of that information in the spectacular 35-page dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele is indeed true—no comments on the Golden Showers, sadly, but on
about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.
But the intercepts do confirm that some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier, according to the officials. CNN has not confirmed whether any content relates to then-candidate Trump. (via Mother Jones)
(This, as opposed to your lewd selfies, is the kind of information the NSA is permitted to collect, and a good thing.)

And then today there's more, as Trump golfs with the pungent Dmitry Rybolovlev, briefly summarized by New York Magazine in 2013:
This fertilizer don famously bought the most expensive apartment ever sold in New York City, for $88 million, ostensibly as a weekend pied-à-terre for his daughter Ekaterina. More recently, he’s been working behind the scenes to shore up the Bank of Cyprus, of which he owns 9.7 percent. 
Worth $9.1 billion.
When working in front of the scenes on the Bank of Cyprus was Wilbur Ross, now the Commerce Secretary–designate. I just bumped into that! Rybolovlev has since bought a nice house in Palm Beach for $95 million, from Donald Trump, though he's never spent a night there, we're told. He's in Palm Beach today though!

I can't find positive evidence that he really has any relationship with Putin at all, sadly, but his relation with Trump is extremely interesting, and includes imaginable bribery:

So the Russia story seems to be back in a big way! But I'm not very sure about its value at the moment.

In the first place because I don't believe Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin ever had any intention of getting Trump elected; indeed, I think he began messing around in the 2016 election, with his intelligence services and WikiLeaks, in the first place because he was confident that Trump would not get elected, in the aim of putting President Hillary Clinton in a position of weakness and a sense of illegitimacy. He did not want Trump to be president, for the obvious reason that you never know what that damn fool is going to get up to, which is just as bad for ruthless Russian dictators as it is for everybody else. Putin almost certainly is revolted by Trump personally, just as anybody else would be, and understands that he is totally untrustworthy.

Putin did not surround Trump with Russia-connected people like Manafort and Page and Flynn and Epshteyn in order to position himself to run Trump himself, as an agent or puppet, because Trump is too egotistical to do what he's told and too dumb to do it properly. Trump has had ample opportunity to get to know such people in his own right, because he himself is a native denizen of the shadiest Russian market in the world—New York City real estate.

(Where I suppose the Russians have always rolled him, leaving marks in the tax returns we're not allowed to see, because he's a terrible dealmaker.)

But we've all got President Trump in spite of the probabilities, for a complex of causes, including Putin's efforts working a little better than he really intended, but also many others, of which the machinations of the New York FBI office and Rudolph Giuliani getting Comey to make that awful move were the final straw. And Putin is naturally trying to see if he can turn the situation to his advantage in some way (the renewed fighting in Luhansk is an example).

The thing about Flynn is, the tradecraft is so unspeakably bad! If he's speaking to the Russian ambassador on a line to which US intelligence is listening, making these endless calls, this is not something Putin is managing. "Believe me!" as Trump says. This is something being masterminded by an idiot—I mean Flynn himself, presumably begging for something he hopes Kislyak can give him the Trump team. But it's the work of an operative who really doesn't know what he's doing, and not of Russian spies.

So by all means let the investigations of Trump's Russian connections continue, and may unsavory details of his operations rain down on us like the pee of a Russian hooker! But let's try to keep our focus on the other stuff, which people can understand in an immediate way: the transparent attempts to make a profit (for himself and Ivanka too!) out of the office, the humiliation of his ill-bred behavior, and above all—for me at least—the way anything he actually accomplishes as president is going to be out of the playbook of the Ryan Republicans, the program Trump voters are said to hate as much as we do.

No comments:

Post a Comment