By Paul Roderick Gregory
May 27, 2017 "Information Clearing House" - Where is the evidence of President Trump's collusion with Russia?
The Wall Street Journal – no particular fan of Trump – characterizes the DOJ charge to Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, as fatally open-ended, vague, and flawed. His instruction lists no federal statutes and invites a fishing expedition into trivial matters. Journalists covering the story appear to disagree on what Mueller is supposed to do: Is he to “oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials” or “investigate possible coordination between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials?”
The political feeding frenzy has, to date, brought forth the following facts of Russiagate: Persons associated with the Trump campaign had contacts with Russians, some unsavory. Trump businesses, like other luxury property developers, had dealings with wealthy Russian buyers. Trump did not condemn Putin during the campaign and expressed a hope (shared by many across the political spectrum) of improved relations.
These facts shed little light, if any, on collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian state to throw the election to Trump, as is evidenced by the deafening silence of anti-Trumpists. As Jim Geraghty writes in National Review:
The FBI counterintelligence guys presumably track Russian agents on our soil as much as possible. You figure the NSA can track just about any electronic communication between Russians and figures in the Trump campaign. If there was something sinister and illegal going on…the U.S. government as a whole had every incentive in the world to expose that as quickly as possible.
Diverse figures and outlets agree that the nexus of “possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign” does not include any evidence of collusion. Maxine Waters (D-CA) concedes there is no proof of collusion as does Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined by Trump nemesis Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Fox political analyst, Brit Hume, on Sunday’s #MediaBuzz stated that he has never seen a charge get so far out in front of the available evidence over the course of his long career. Matt Taibbi, a left-wing columnist for Rolling Stone who calls Trump the “crazy clown President," points out that “despite almost daily leaks by anonymous sources, we do not know whether it is about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian state.”
Follow the Smoke Not the Fourth Amendment
The New York Times, in a lead editorial, counters the lack of evidence of collusion as follows: “The known facts suggest an unusually extensive network (my italics) of relationships with a major foreign power.” The Times’ logic: Trump-associate dealings with Russians are alone sufficient justification for an investigation. Where there is smoke, there may be fire. So, investigate, investigate, investigate until you find something.
The smoke-justifies-the-investigation argument is inconsistent with centuries of common law and the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of “probable cause supported by oath or affirmation.” Realizing the inconsistency with the rule of law, Deputy AG Rosenstein cited “unique circumstances” and “the public interest” to justify the independent counsel. Taibbi disagrees in a moment of candor. “Liberal thinkers have traditionally abhorred secret courts, secret surveillance and secret evidence” and “reflexively discouraged the news media from printing unverified or unverifiable charges emanating from such secret sources. But because it's Donald Trump, no one seems to care.”
If Trump can be singled out for an undated blank-check scavenger hunt, who is next? What if Republicans had achieved a similar investigation of Barack Obama’s ties to individuals hostile to the American system in his background, such as Bill Ayres, Reverend Wright, Addie Wyatt, and Frank Marshall Davis? I see little difference, other than a pro-Obama media and a stick-together-no-matter-what Democratic Party.
What 'Extensive' Russian Network of Trump?
An inventory of Trump-Russia “smoke” consists of the following: A peripheral Trump associate purportedly communicated with the hacker (or hacking group) identified as Guccifer 2.0. (How he did so I could not know). Maxine Waters (D-CA) hypothesized that Russian propagandists trained Trump. Others cite the 18 contacts (declared innocuous by the intelligence community) between the Trump campaign and Russia in the last seven months of the campaign. High on the smoke list is the paid speech ($43,000) by Trump advisor Michael Flynn (who failed to disclose an otherwise-legal conversation with the Russian ambassador). A final puff of smoke is former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort’s, consulting work for unsavory Ukrainian/Russian politicians and oligarchs.
Three contacts per month do not add up to an “unusually extensive network.” Note that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had “lots of meetings” with Russian officials including Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign, Bill Clinton delivered a $500,000 speech to a Russian oligarch in 2010. The insider Democratic lobbying behemoth, Podesta Group, charged a Kremlin-associated bank $170,000 for lobbying in 2016 for removal of sanctions and $60,000 to Uranium One in 2015 to lobby for a huge uranium deal in favor of Russia. Manafort directed his wealthy Ukrainian/Russia clients to the Podesta Group, which cashed in more than a million dollars in lobbying fees. Democrat heavyweight Lanny Davis represented a fugitive oligarch, who also happened to be a Manafort client. Yes, indeed, Washington’s K-Street swamp is deep and incestuously blurs party affiliation.
Trump’s Had Real Estate Dealings With the Russians: So what?
In its Russia-Trump Nexus, the Times points the finger at his “extensive commercial and personal relationships with politically-connected Russian businessmen” in high-end real estate in New York and Miami. Trump’s cited Russian business ties date largely to pre-sanction Russia during the Obama-Clinton “reset.” Restrictions on doing business with Russia date from April 2014 to present and are limited to sanctioned firms and individuals.
The Times fails to disclose that luxury international real estate is disproportionally dominated by wealthy Russians, Chinese, and Gulf State Arabs. More than one third of the world’s billionaires hail from these three areas. Hence, there should be no shock or distaste that Trump businesses sold almost $100 million worth of properties in Trump-branded towers in Florida to 63 individuals with Russian passports and addresses long before Trump’s presidential ambitions. If the Times wishes to heap abuse on Trump for dealing with shady oligarchs, it must similarly censure property developers in London’s Belgravia, the French Riviera, Switzerland, and Dubai.
No Advertising - No Government Grants - This Is Independent Media
The political and media establishment looks with distaste at the rough-and-tumble of international business. They, however, look the other way when Al Gore sells his environmental TV network to Al Jazeera for $70 million, the Clinton Foundation accepts $100 million from a Russian-connected uranium magnate, the Bill Clinton campaign accepts almost $400,000 of Chinese funds bundled by a White House regular, or career politicians retiring to million dollar payoffs in K-Street lobbying firms.
The #NeverTrumpers' standard refuge to any pooh-poohing of Trump’s Russian ties is that 17 national security agencies agree that Russian higher-ups ordered the hacking and release of DNC emails through WikiLeaks in order to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton (my italics).
It is more than likely that Russian hackers (FSB, foreign intelligence officers or hackers-for-hire) hacked the DNC, but the shady world of Russian cyber operations defies efforts of Russia’s freewheeling cyber experts to pin point the blame. Even more difficult is to look inside Putin’s brain. Any intelligence officer who pretends to understand Putin is delusional. We can only look at Russian state-controlled media, which, early in the campaign, spread stories that Hillary’s election meant “World War III.” As Clinton seemed poised to win, the Russian coverage switched to neutral or even favored Clinton. Russian think-tankers and pundits characterized Clinton as a known quality with little upside for Russia. Trump’s unpredictability, inexperience, and hawkishness on defense buildup, on the other hand, alarmed some Russian analysts.
For Putin, the WikiLeaks emails were a godsend no matter who won. WikiLeaks revealed exploitable flaws in US democracy: US elections are decided by insiders who are doing the bidding of Soros, Goldman Sachs, and the Saudis. The establishment rigs elections against “peoples’’” candidates, like Bernie Sanders. If critics complain about the enrichment of Putin’s inner circle, he only need rehash the antics of the Clinton Foundation. If we complain about his state-run media, Putin need only talk about the cozy relationship between the mainstream media and the Democratic Party.
How Would Collusion Work?
Those, who believe in quid-pro-quo collusion and coordination, must explain how this would work. The noted political theorist, Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, has explained why it is so difficult to organize successful conspiracies between parties with different goals. A Trump-Putin conspiracy would be particularly unlikely.
Any such coordination deal would likely fall apart before it got off the ground. Trump, albeit a novice politician, would understand that Putin lacks the means to influence a US election covering 538 electoral college votes and a total of almost $2 billion in campaign contributions. Trump would know that Putin’s foreign news media have a tiny footprint in the US and that Russia’s negative image could cost him votes. Although outraised by Clinton, Trump had discovered ways to leverage free broadcasting and presidential debates. In sum, Putin had little to offer. If he won, Trump could renege on his promises anyway.
The first few months of the Trump administration have shown that Trump is not acting in Putin’s interests. His appointments to key foreign policy positions are of strong anti-Putin advocates. He has freed American drilling from the restraints put on it by Obama and would have been continued by Clinton. There is no sign that the sanctions will be lifted. If Putin had done his best to help Trump win, Trump has reneged and would have to face Putin’s revenge.
Have You No Shame?
Joseph Welch, the lawyer for the army in the McCarthy-Army hearings brought the McCarthy Era to an end by asking McCarthy, who had gratuitously ruined the reputation of a young colleague: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” We are beginning to see the use of these guilt-by-association practices. Late last week, the media identified a “person of interest” within the Trump administration. On Sunday, he was outed as Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign worker with links to Russia. Is the media on a witch hunt against anyone with some sort of Russia connection and Trump?
This hits home: Over a 45-year career as a scholar specializing in Soviet and Russian economics, I have extensive ties to Russia. I participated in Congress’s review of USSR intelligence failures. At the Hoover Institution, I have associated with persons on the Trump transition team, a major cabinet appointee, and I was briefly a foreign policy advisor to another Trump cabinet appointee. I have published several skeptical Clinton opinion pieces and have deigned to defend Trump on occasion. Am I next?
Paul Roderick Gregory is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford, and energy fellow and Cullen Professor of Economics at the University of Houston. He is also a research professor at the German Institute for Economic Research Berlin. His specialties are Russia and Comparative Economics.
This article was first published by Forbes -