Egregious Act: Russia’s U.S. Election Interference & Mini-Watergate Cover-up
The handling of the Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election has haunted Trump’s presidency even before he took the oath of office in January 2017.
Here are some examples of the many quotes supporting the findings of Russian election interference, taken from a July 2018 New York Times article (Note 1). The quotes even include one from Trump’s former national security advisor:
“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.”
–Intelligence assessment by the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence
“As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.”
–Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Trump’s national security advisor (to April 2018)
“There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections.”
–Richard M. Burr, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee
“As I have said consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.”
–Christopher A. Wray, FBI director
Of course, we all know Trump constantly questioned Russia’s involvement. Several of his many “waffling” quotes:
“They said they think it’s Russia; I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. It could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”
In July 2017, the Republican-controlled Congress passed new sanctions to punish Russia for interfering in the election. A brief breakdown of the bill follows (Note 2):
The bill applies sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, and it substantially reduces the President’s power to waive or ease certain sanctions without Congressional approval.
The Russian sanctions (in part) will target people and entities that:
— undermine US cybersecurity on behalf of the Russian government
— conduct “significant” transactions with Russian defense and intelligence agencies
— commit acts of “significant” corruption
The bill lists 12 types of sanctions that can be imposed and obliges the President to use at least five in many cases against those affected. They can include freezing assets, such as property, revoking US visas and banning exports from the United States to those sanctioned. (Note 2)
The bill included a provision that gave Trump six months to decide whether he wanted to add new sanctions against Russia.
While the bill was still working its way through Congress, the Trump administration refused to say whether he would sign it if it reached his desk (Note 3). After the bill was passed, Trump did sign it but heavily criticized it even as he was signing it. Trump also said the threat of sanctions was enough of a deterrent. A congressman pointed out that a “deterrent” didn’t make sense as the incident in question (the election interference) had already occurred (Note 4).
So Trump in substance to date has not enacted any aspect of the law passed by Congress, and supported by virtually everyone but Trump. His signing of the bill was a meaningless gesture on his part. Russia, to this day, remains unpunished for their election influence.
Pro-Trump Cover up
One of Donald Trump administration’s most contemptible acts was its July 2018 attempted cover-up of Putin’s admission at the Helsinki press conference that Russia -to no one’s surprise-favored Trump over Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
From the official transcript of the Helsinki Conference (Note 5):
Reporter (Jeff Mason from Reuters): “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the U.S. election, and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”
Putin: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US/Russia relationship back to normal.”
One can also observe this exchange in the RealClearPolitics video of the press conference (@ minute 32:35). (Note 6)
Well, Putin’s statement directly contradicts Trump’s ongoing position that Russia did not support Trump. It is unclear if Putin also indicated that Russia tried to influence the U.S. election (if Putin’s second “Yes, I did” answered the reporter’s second question, indicating Putin did direct his officials to help Trump win). We note that in virtually all chain of command organizations, those officials reporting to a powerful top executive (like Putin) would ‘get the message’ of what is expected. If the top executive (Putin) said he wanted Donald Trump to win the U.S. election, his officials would then do everything they could to try to influence the U.S. election (which the FBI etc found they did), without any need for further direction from the top executive.
Back to the transcript. An article in The Atlantic discusses the original mis-quoting White House transcript (Note 7):
And here’s the key section from the first White House transcript, which makes it seem as though Putin is still talking about the Mueller probe, the previous topic:
President Putin: “That could be a first step, and we can also extend it. Options abound, and they all can be found in an appropriate legal framework.”
Reporter (Jeff Mason): “And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”
President Putin: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.–Russia relationship back to normal.”
Well, anyone can see the first part of Jeff Mason’s question (highlighted above) disappeared from this initial White House transcript! A second article in The Atlantic (Note 8) in a timeline fashion outlines the Trump administration’s unresponsive buffoonery that followed. It took more than a week for the White House to correct the mis-quote. The White House blamed the issue on a technical glitch. How likely is that, when there is a video of the press conference available the day after the press conference?
The Russian transcript, (Note 9), went one step further and simply removed the entire exchange between Mason and Putin!
Then more buffoonery: Donald Trump tweeted on July 24 2018, nine days later (Note 10) , that Russia did not want him to be president because he had been tougher on Russia than any other president, which directly contradicts Putin’s press conference statement, as well as the many other published statements that Putin did not want Hillary Clinton to be president. And of course this is an after-the-fact statement—we are addressing Putin’s point of view before Trump was even president, so how could he be tougher then, than any other president!
Note 1: Yourish, Karen, and Troy Griggs. “8 U.S. Intelligence Groups Blame Russia For Meddling, But Trump Keeps Clouding The Picture”. Nytimes.Com, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/07/16/us/elections/russian-interference-statements-comments.html
Note 2: Angela Dewan, CNN. “Russia Sanctions: What You Need To Know”. CNN, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/ampstories/world/russia-sanctions-what-you-need-to-know
Note 3: Andrews, Natalie. “U.S. Lawmakers Reach Deal On New Sanctions Against Russia”. WSJ, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-lawmakers-reach-deal-on-new-sanctions-against-russia-1500761321?mod=article_inline
Note 4:”Donald Trump Refuses To Impose New Sanctions On Russia”. The Independent, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-russia-sanctions-trump-no-new-congress-law-election-hacking-intervention-putin-kremlin-a8184866.html
Note 5: White house final official transcript. Putin exchange about 75% into the transcript. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-president-putin-russian-federation-joint-press-conference/
Note 6: RealClearPolitics Video https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/07/15/watch_live_coverage_of_helsinki_summit_as_vladimir_putin_and_trump_meet.html
Note 7: Atlantic article shows what the original White House transcript was, before it was changed: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/trump-putin-press-conference-transcript/565385/
Note 8: Atlantic article: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/white-house-transcript-correction/566183/
Note 9: Official Russian Transcript (excludes the entire exchange!) http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/58017