Trump’s Putin/Russia Ties
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"Instead of seeing Russia as a democracy in the process of failing, see it as an authoritarian system that's in the process of succeeding." — Professor Karen Dawisha, quoted in The Plot to Hack AmericaThe Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance
To Putin, the best of all possible worlds would be an economically crippled America, withdrawn from military adventurism and NATO, and with leadership friendly to Russia. Could he make this happen by backing the right horse? As former director of the KGB, now in control of Russia's economic, intelligence, and nuclear arsenal, he could certainly try. — from The Plot to Hack AmericaThe Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance
… Trump and Putin are two of a kind: xenophobic, bigoted demagogues with dual histories of corruption, aggression, and celebration of white supremacy repackaged as patriotic nationalism. Their radical American and Russian followers, now linked by the internet, share similar goals and are part of a larger revival of white supremacist movements happening across the West. — Sarah Kendzior
1986: Trump Planning to Negotiate Nuclear Treaty on Behalf of US with USSR
Donald Trump sets up a meeting with Boston cardiologist Bernard Lown, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 with leading Soviet physician Yevgeny I. Chazov for their efforts to promote a reduction in US and Soviet nuclear arsenals on behalf of their group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
Trump's purpose is to solicit information about Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Lown is one of the few Americans to have personally met and engaged with Gorbachev outside of government channels. Trump tells Lown he intends to persuade President Reagan to provide him a post to the Soviet Union to negotiate a nuclear disarmament treaty between the two nations. According to Lown, Trump tells him: "I hear you met with Gorbachev, and you had a long interview with him, and you're a doctor, so you have a good assessment of who he is. … I intend to call my good friend Ronnie [Reagan] to make me a plenipotentiary ambassador for the United States with Gorbachev." In 2017, Lown recalls: "Those are the words he used. And he said he would go to Moscow and he'd sit down with Gorbachev, and then he took his thumb and he hit the desk and he said, 'And within one hour the Cold War would be over!' I sat there dumbfounded. 'Who is this self-inflated individual? Is he sane or what?'" Lown then says, "He already had Russia mania in 1986, 31 years ago." Lown will say the meeting with Trump was put together by a Wall Street broker who was friends with Trump. Lown has no idea who Trump is, but the broker is a member of the board of the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation, and, the broker says, Trump might be willing to provide funding for the foundation. Lown will say that it quickly becomes apparent that Trump is not interested in funding his foundation, and is either not interested or incapable of listening to Lown's assessment of Gorbachev. "I talked to [Trump] extensively about my experience with Gorbachev," Lown later recalls. "I talked for about 20 minutes or so, about how I thought Gorbachev behaved, blah, blah, and he sat there, sort of listening. He was fidgeting and I realized he had a short attention span. … I thought there was another agenda, perhaps, but I didn't know what that was. I was not sure about his motivation for why he was doing it. But it puts together sort of a continuum that began way back in '86, with his fixation on Russia – the Soviet Union, then." Trump and Lown never meet again. Trump has said he has long been concerned about nuclear proliferation since his uncle, nuclear physicist John Trump, spoke to him about it in 1969. Trump's solution is to "do deals" with nuclear-armed nations like the USSR. New York Times reporter William Geist wrote in 1984: "The idea that he would ever be allowed to go into a room alone and negotiate for the United States, let alone be successful in disarming the world, seems the naive musing of an optimistic, deluded young man who has never lost at anything he has tried. But he believes that through years of making his views known and through supporting candidates who share his views, it could happen someday." Trump told a Washington Post reporter that though he knows little about nuclear weaponry or treaties: "It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. … I think I know most of it anyway. You're talking about just getting updated on a situation." He attempted to imply that he was already working in some capacity with the Reagan administration on the issue in a November 1985 interview, telling reporter Ron Rosenbaum: "There's a vast difference between somebody who's been consistently successful and somebody who's been working for a relatively small amount of money in governmental service for many years, in many cases because the private sector, who have seen these people indirectly, didn't choose to hire these people, any of them, because it didn't find them to be particularly capable." Times reporter George Vecsey wrote in December 1985: "People used to titter when Donald Trump said he wanted to broker a nuclear-arms reduction. … If the United States gave Donald Trump an official title and let him loose on the arms race, he might lay off on his threat to darken the western sky of Manhattan with his personal Brasilia North. Make peace, not skyscrapers, that's the general idea." Sometime after the meeting with Lown, Trump begins hinting that he may run for president, in part on a nuclear-disarmament platform. (Hollywood Reporter)
1986-1987: Trump Visits Russia as Part of Soviet Attempt to Recruit as Intel Asset
Real estate developer and aspiring celebrity Donald Trump sits next to Russian Ambassador Yuri Dubinin at a luncheon given by New York cosmetics magnate Leonard Lauder. According to The Art of the Deal, Trump's 1987 ghostwritten autobiography, Dubinin's daughter launches a discussion about the lavish Fifth Avenue edifice Trump Tower, and, as Trump's ghostwriter Tony Schwartz later recounts, "one thing led to another, and now I'm talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin." Schwartz later writes: "In January 1987, I [Trump] got a letter from Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, that began: 'It is a pleasure for me to relay some good news from Moscow.' It went on to say that the leading Soviet state agency for international tourism, Goscomintourist, had expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture to construct and manage a hotel in Moscow."
Another guest at the luncheon is future ambassador Vitaly Churkin. Trump's Moscow tower is envisioned to be built in conjunction with the Russian government. On July 4, 1987, Trump, his wife Ivana, who speaks fluent Russian, and Lisa Calandra, Ivana's Italian-American assistant, fly to Moscow at the invitation of Intourist, the Soviet agency for international tourism and a KGB subsidiary. They stay in the Lenin Suite of the National Hotel, next to the Intourist complex. The suite is, of course, heavily bugged with both audio and video monitoring. The Trumps tour several potential sites – none across the street from the Kremlin – and as Trump spokesperson Dan Klores later says, "He met with a lot of the economic and financial advisers in the Politburo." Trump informally discusses the topic of nuclear disarmament with his hosts, and three years later will tell a Playboy reporter, "Generally, these guys are much tougher and smarter than our representatives." Trump does not meet with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but at a state dinner held by President Reagan later in the year, he has a long conversation with Gorbachev about economics and the hotel industry. The Trump hotel in Moscow will never be built. In 1988, the Washington Post will write, "The fact is, the billionaire developer (casino czar, bestselling author, nouveau yachtsman, etc.) has been making overtures to Moscow for some time."
Trump Visit Orchestrated by KGB, Intent is to Recruit Trump as Intel Asset
Trump's visit to Moscow is planned and facilitated by the top level of the Soviet diplomatic service, with the assistance of the KGB. One of the KGB's highest officials, General Vladimir Alexandrovich Kryuchkov, takes a personal interest in Trump's visit; he believes he can recruit Trump as either a witting or an unwitting asset for Russian intelligence. Kryuchkov issued a series of mandates for KGB officials in 1984, ordering them to become more "creative" in recruiting Americans and other foreigners as possible assets, and to move away from their historical focus on disaffected leftists and to instead focus on less ideological targets, using money and flattery instead of appeals to particular ideological beliefs. Kryuchkov wrote in part: "“Further improvement in operational work with agents calls for fuller and wider utilisation of confidential and special unofficial contacts. These should be acquired chiefly among prominent figures in politics and society, and important representatives of business and science" who can "supply valuable information" as well as "actively influence" their nations' foreign policy "in a direction of advantage to the USSR." Of course, one of the best means of recruitment is the obtaining and use of "kompromat," compromising material that can be used to persuade or even blackmail a target. Trump had become a "person of interest" to Soviet intelligence as far back as 1977, when he married Czech model Ivana Zelnickova. Czech spies were some of the USSR's most useful assets, and were often used in the US and Latin America. Although there is no evidence that Ivana Trump was a Czech intelligence agent, she was closely watched after she married Trump. Czech agents read her letters to her father, who was not an intelligence operative but who did have a close relationship with the Czech secret police. The Trump family was surveilled while in the US and Czechoslovakia alike. Of course, the Czechs shared their intelligence findings with their Soviet masters, who learned that Trump is a powerful real-estate tycoon with a fondness for publicity. The Czech files noted Ivana's belief that her husband is increasingly interested in a political career. Trump later boasts that he made such an impression on Dubinin that the ambassador invited him to come to Moscow as a guest of the state. In reality, Trump is invited to Moscow in order to recruit him as a "doveritelnaya svyaz," a "confidential contact" one step below a full-blown intelligence agent. Dubinin visited New York, and Trump Tower, six months before the Lauder luncheon. As per guidance he received from the KGB, he immediately flattered Trump. Dubinin's daughter Natalia Dubinina later says: "Trump melted at once. He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive. He needs recognition. And, of course, when he gets it he likes it. My father's visit worked on him [Trump] like honey to a bee." Dubinina will readily admit her father was trying to "hook" Trump, and used flattery and appeals to his gargantuan ego to make it happen. Dubinin was made the USSR's Ambassador to the US six weeks after he met with Trump at Trump Tower, where he took over a UN delegation rife with KGB and GRU agents. Author Luke Harding later writes: "Dubinin's invitation to Trump to visit Moscow [at the Lauder luncheon] looks like a classic cultivation exercise, which would have had the KGB’s full support and approval. Once in Moscow, Trump is given lavish treatment by Intourist, who plies him according to his taste. As one GRU operative, Viktor Suvorov, later recalls the treatment Intourist gave potential assets like Trump: "Everything is free. There are good parties with nice girls. It could be a sauna and girls and who knows what else. … The interest is only one. To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future." After ten or twenty years, Suvorov will explain, many of the assets they recruit will turn out to be nobodies. But some of them will have risen to positions of influence. "It's at this point you say: 'Knock, knock! Do you remember the marvelous time in Moscow? It was a wonderful evening. You were so drunk. You don't remember? We just show you something for your good memory.'" When Trump returns from his trip to Moscow, he begins telling friends and associates that he is thinking about running for president.
Fooled by an Impersonator
When Gorbachev visits New York City in 1988, Trump goes outside the Trump Tower to meet him and shake his hand. Unfortunately for Trump, he shakes hands with impersonator Ronald Knapp, who has won awards for impersonating the Soviet leader. Trump later denies he was fooled, saying: "He looked fabulous and he sounded fabulous, but I knew it couldn't be right. … For one thing, I looked into the back of his limo and saw four very attractive women … I knew that his society had not come that far yet in terms of capitalist decadence." However, Knapp's friend Gordon Elliott, who witnesses the encounter, says that Trump was indeed taken in. "There was absolutely no question that he bought it," Elliott later tells a reporter.
Trump Tower Moscow?
In November 2013, Trump will secure funding for his long-anticipated Trump Tower Moscow. The deal will collapse shortly after Trump's presidential victory. (Washington Post, Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, by Luke Harding, Politico, Tass, New Yorker, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mother Jones, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance, Hollywood Reporter, image of Trump Vodka from VOA News)
Now, one has to ask: There were lots of ambitions real estate moguls looking for deals with Russia in the mid-'80s; why did they select Donald Trump? — Bill Moyers
1987: Trump Advocates Allying with USSR to Curb Nuclear Proliferation
Real estate developer and casino magnate Donald Trump gives an interview to journalist and author Ron Rosenbaum, in which Trump advises that the Reagan administration should forge closer ties with the Soviet Union and work together – against traditional allies such as France – to reduce the number of nuclear weapons around the globe.
Trump tells Rosenbaum that he has learned from conversations with his uncle, engineer and MIT professor John Trump, to worry about terrorists and other non-national groups getting nuclear weapons. "He told me something a few years ago," Trump says. "He told me, 'You don’t realize how simple nuclear technology is becoming.' That's scary. He said it used to be that only a few brains in the world understood it and now you have a situation where thousands and thousands of brains can easily understand it, and it's becoming easier, and someday it'll be like making a bomb in the basement of your house. And that's a very frightening statement coming from a man who’s totally versed in it." Trump says of France and its apparent desire to increase the number of nuclear weapons among French allies like Pakistan: "I believe they're sort of fools. They only think about Russia. Russian and U.S. weapons. But the summit is a joke. It's not about the real nuclear problem. You have countries like France that are openly and blatantly selling nuclear technology." Trump apparently has little use for the French government: "They've got an arrogant head of the country, who I think is a total fool, and he's trying to make up for his losses by selling this technology to anyone, and it's a disgrace. It's a disgrace." Trump suggests that the US impose economic sanctions on France: "I think you have to come down on them very hard economically or whatever way. … I think the solution is largely economic. Because there are so many of these countries that are so fragile and we have a vast power that's never been used. They depend on us for food, for medical supplies. And I would never even suggest using it except on this issue. But this issue supersedes all other things. I guess the easy thing would be to say you go in and clean it out. … I'd come down on them so hard. If they didn't give it up, and I don't mean reduce it, and I don't mean stop, because stopping doesn't mean anything. I mean get it out. If they didn't, I would bring sanctions against that country that would be so strong, so unbelievable." Trump demurs in advocating that US forces enter Pakistan to destroy that nation's nuclear program: "I don't necessarily want to advocate that publicly because it comes off radical. And you know, without a lot of discussion prior to saying that, it sounds very foolish and this is why I get very concerned about discussing it at all." Instead, Trump says, the US should ally itself more closely with the Soviet Union: "It's a deal with the Soviets. We approach them on this basis: We both recognize the nonproliferation treaty's not working, that half a dozen countries are on the brink of getting a bomb. Which can only cause trouble for the two of us. The deterrence of mutual assured destruction that prevents the United States and the USSR from nuking each other won't work on the level of an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange. Or a madman dictator with a briefcase-bomb team. The only answer is for the Big Two to make a deal now to step in and prevent the next generation of nations about to go nuclear from doing so. By whatever means necessary. … Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries. So we should use our power of economic retaliation and they use their powers of retaliation and between the two of us we will prevent the problem from happening. It would have been better having done something five years ago. But I believe even a country such as Pakistan would have to do something now. Five years from now they'll laugh." Trump says he is "dealing at a very high level on this" topic, with people in the White House. (Vox, Slate)
September 1-2, 1987: Trump Buys Ads Demanding that US Stop Paying to Defend Other Nations
Real estate millionaire Donald Trump buys full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe to say that the US should stop paying to defend countries that can pay to protect themselves.
The ads cost a total of almost $95,000, according to Trump spokesperson Daniel Klores. The headline reads: "There's nothing wrong with America's Foreign Defense Policy that a little backbone can't cure" The text reads in part: "For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States," at a heavy cost to America's economy, deficit and tax revenue. "The saga continues unabated as we defend the Persian Gulf." That area is, the ad says, "an area of only marginal significance to the United States for its oil supplies, but one upon which Japan and others are almost totally dependent. Why are these nations not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests? … The world is laughing at America's politicians as we protect ships we don't own, carrying oil we don't need, destined for allies who won't help. … Let's not let our great country be laughed at any more." An Associated Press article about the ads says that "Trump's name has been mentioned for various public offices, including mayor of New York City, governor and the presidency." Speculation is rampant that Trump will oppose Vice President Bush for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination. Klores tells an AP reporter, "Right now Donald Trump has no ambition to seek political office of any kind. … There is absolutely no plan to run for mayor, governor or United States senator. He will not comment about the presidency." A month later, Trump will tell a reporter: "I'm not running for anything. … I believe that if I did run for president, I'd win." (Associated Press, Buzzfeed, Hollywood Reporter)
1996: Trump Goes to Moscow to Plan Luxury Properties
Donald Trump flies to Moscow with a proposal for a luxury residential complex that is to be built on property owned by a US tobacco company. While there, he praises Moscow's growth potential. (VOA News)
1996: Trump Applies for Russian Trademarks
Donald Trump applies for the first of at least eight trademarks for company names in Russia, including Trump Tower. He will continue to file applications through 2008. (VOA News)
1997: Trump Meets Russian General in New York
Donald Trump hosts retired Russian General Alexander Lebed, a presidential hopeful, at his Trump Tower in New York. (VOA News)
1997: Trump Wants Huge Russian Statue Erected in New York City
Donald Trump proposes an idea: to install an enormous statue of Christopher Columbus near the Hudson River, a statue created by a billionaire artist friend of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and donated by the Russian government. The statue, which dwarfs the Statue of Liberty, will be erected in Puerto Rico. (VOA News)
1999: Trump Critical of Yeltsin, Russia
During the political upheavals going on in Russia, Donald Trump tells a television interviewer that the country is "out of control" and President Boris Yeltsin is "a disaster." (VOA News)
January 2000: Trump Says NATO Unnecessary Even as Putin Makes Overtures to Have Russia Join Alliance
In his ghostwritten book The America We Deserve, celebrity real-estate mogul Donald Trump attacks the existence of NATO, stating: "America has no vital interest in choosing between warring factions whose animosities go back centuries in Eastern Europe. Their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually. The cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly funds that can be put to better use. We pay for the defense of France and yet they vote against us at the United Nations and choose the side of the North Koreans, the Libyans, and other rogue nations."
Although this is commonly viewed as a pro-Russian, anti-Western European stance that is at odds with traditional US foreign policy, ironically, the newly ensconsced Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, is attempting, however insincerely, to have Russia actually join NATO. In his memoir of Putin and his longtime confederation of cronies, All the Kremlin's Men, author Mikhail Zygar will write: "Even before being elected president, Putin asked NATO Secretary General George Robertson at their first meeting, in February 2000, when Russia would be able to join the alliance." Putin is reportedly not happy with the lukewarm response he receives from Robertson, XZygar will observe. "Putin was irked. He was convinced that Russia should not have to wait in line like other countries; on the contrary, it should be invited to join." In 2004, after NATO accepts the membership of seven former Soviet-occupied states, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, Putin will abandon any pretense of alignment with NATO and the West, and begin treating the US and its NATO allies as outright enemies. (Daily Beast)
NATO, for [Trump], is at best a pay-to-play arrangement, at worst, a total waste of time. — Michael Weiss
2001: Trump Accused of Having Sex with Russian Women on Radio Show
Trump calls into the Howard Stern radio morning show, where he and a studio guest, gossip reporter A.J. Benza, engage in what Death and Taxes reporter Maggie Serota characterizes as a "dick-measuring content."
During the exchange, Benza pivots to say, "Meanwhile, [Trump] bangs Russian people." Trump instantly denies the allegation, saying: "Who are you talking about, Russian people, A.J.? I don't know anything." Benza says: "He used to call me when I was a columnist and say, 'I was just in Russia, the girls have no morals, you gotta get out there.' [Trump's] out of his mind." (Death and Taxes, Business Insider)
2007: Trump Sells Vodka in Moscow
Donald Trump flies to the Millionaire Fair in Moscow to promote his "Trump Super Premium Vodka 24K." Trump claims the bottles are "decorated with pure twenty-four karat gold." (VOA News)
October 15, 2007: Trump Praises Putin on CNN
Donald Trump gives an interview to Larry King on CNN. Trump is there primarily to hawk his book Think Big and Kick Ass.
Other parts of the interview feature Trump insulting a variety of celebrities. One of the few people he does not insult is Russian despot Vladimir Putin. King steers the conversation towards Trump's political involvement, where he denigrates President Bush, blaming him for the Iraq war, the poor economy, and America's declining reputation around the globe. He praises Iraq's Saddam Hussein because "you know what he did with the terrorists? He killed them. He would kill terrorists. And now Iraq is a breeding ground. That's where all the terrorists are going. They're going to Iraq because that's the safest place for them to be." Other nations have great respect for Putin, he says. "Look at Putin – what he's doing with Russia – I mean, you know, what's going on over there. I mean this guy has done – whether you like him or don't like him – he's doing a great job … in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period. Forget about image." He also praises Senator Hillary Clinton, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a candidate for the Republican nomination. He then announces that he is forming "a presidential exploratory committee." Trump will ultimately choose not to run in 2008. (CNN)
2008: Trump Says Putin Better President than Bush
Donald Trump tells the Russian magazine Chayka (Seagull) that Putin is a better president than President Bush. He says: "I really like Vladimir Putin. I respect him. He does his job well. Much better than our Bush." (Daily Beast)
2008: Trump Announces Russian Reality Show
Donald Trump announces that his organization and a partner, Affliction Entertainment, a mixed martial arts agency, will film a multi-episode reality TV show in Russia. Trump's show The Apprentice is very popular in Russia. The show never gets made. (VOA News)
September 15, 2008: Trump Jr: "We See a Lot of Money Pouring In From Russia"
Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr, the executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, discusses his family's business with trade publication eTurbo News. According to Trump Jr, the publication writes, "Russia is the emerging market worth investing in currently, however in caveat into the high-end sector he counts on his international experience in the market."
Trump Jr says: "The emerging world in general attributes such brand premium to real estate that we are looking all over the place, primarily Russia. There are countries that have not been fully tapped by us such as Thailand, Vietnam and Argentina. We are currently looking at potential deals. Our interest is really everywhere because there is a lot of new money in the emerging markets which appeal to certain brands whether ego-driven or having the life-jacket effect that we feel gives added-value to our investment." Russia and China are the Trump Organization's two major areas of interest for development: "Given what I've seen in Russia's real estate market as of late relative to some of the emerging markets, the country seems to have a lot more natural strength, especially in the high-end sector where people focus on price per square-meter." Russia may not be the safest place to develop, he acknowledges: "As much as we want to take our business over there, Russia is just a different world. Though the legal structure is in place for what we have today, and even 99 percent is covered, that 1 percent not covered could be 100 percent covered over there because it is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who, etc. It really is a scary place." Even so, Trump Jr says, the Trump Organization is heavily invested in Russia, and intends to become more so in the future: "… Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There's indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble." (eTurbo News)
— 2013 —
May-June 2013: Trump Meets Putin Crony, Quickly Decides to Allow Russia to Host Beauty Pageant
Real-estate magnate and reality-TV host Donald Trump spends the month of May deciding where to host the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. Almost twenty nations are vying for the position.
However, a week after being introduced to Russian real-estate oligarch and Putin crony Aras Agalarov in June 2013, Trump decides that Moscow will host the pageant. Reports later claim that Trump and Agalarov become so close after their June 2013 introduction that it was like "manna" to Putin. Agalarov's son Emin, who is a popular Russian pop star and television celebrity, is married to the daughter of the president of Azerbaijan. Former law professor Seth Abramson will later write that Trump's connection to the Agalarov family helps him secure two enormously profitable real-estate deals: Trump Tower Baku (Azerbeijan) and Trump Tower Moscow. (Seth Abramson)
June 2013: Trump Invites Putin to Miss Universe Pageant
Donald Trump, in the process of organizing his long-awaited trip to Moscow to host the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, writes a letter to Vladimir Putin inviting him to the event and offering to meet with him. At the bottom, he scrawls a handwritten note saying he hopes to see "beautiful" women during the trip.
At about this same time, Trump posts on Twitter, "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?" Trump is not only interested in attracting the attention of Putin, whom he reveres, but in expanding his brand in Russia. When the existence of the letter is revealed in 2018, one of Trump's lawyers, John Dowd, will call the report about the letter "nonsense." One of the pageant organizers, oligarch Aras Agalarov, later says that Putin had planned on attending, but was unable to at the last minute. Instead, Agalarov will say, Putin sent a "friendly" note and a gift of a Russian lacquered box. "So [Trump] was leaving with very warm feelings," Agalarov will say, "He was very happy." Later on, Trump suggested that Putin was following the pageant and Trump's role in it, telling an MSNBC reporter while in Moscow, "I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he's very interested in what we're doing here today." He even tells some people he actually met with Putin during the pageant, though he will not do so. (Washington Post)
September 11-12, 2013: Trump Agrees with Putin's Condemnation of "American Exceptionalism" and Syrian Policies, Calls Obama "Weak" and "Ineffective"
Russian despot Vladimir Putin has an opinion editorial published in the New York Times, actually written on Putin's behalf by a PR firm, in which he slams President Obama's decision to consider a unilateral military strike against radical Islamist forces attacking the nation's citizenry. Trump quickly praises the column on Twitter.
Putin writes that such a strike would weaken and possibly destroy the United Nations, would result in "more innocent victims and escalation," might move the conflict beyond Syria's borders, and would encourage Islamist extremists to engage in more terror attacks. He implictly threatens to derail the talks to control Iran's nuclear program. Finally, he writes, such a strike "could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance." He says any such actions would need to be approved by the UN Security Council: "Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression." (Putin fails to mention his nation's own unilateral military actions that went against the UN.) He advises the United States to "stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement," and points to an offer by the Syrian government to allow the supervised destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal – an arsenal Putin denies Syrian forces have ever used in the same op-ed – as a "new opportunity to avoid military action … " He ends by saying that he disagrees with Obama's stated endorsement of the idea of "American exceptionalism," writing: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal." The morning after Putin's op-ed is published, real estate mogul and incipient presidential candidate Donald Trump posts on Twitter: "Putin's letter is a masterpiece for Russia and a disaster for the US. He is lecturing to our President. Never has our Country looked to [sic] weak." The same day, Trump tars Obama in a CNBC interview, saying the op-ed was "amazingly well-written" and shows Putin "wants to become the world leader, and he's doing that. … He's really embarrassing the US and he's embarrassing the president. Trump also says that Putin is offering to save Obama by offering him an alternative to the US's Syria policy: "Three days ago, nobody, including Congress, wanted to attack … and start another mess like we've made in Iraq and many other place." Putin comes across as a professor to Obama's schoolchild, he adds, and says: "It makes the president look very weak and very ineffective. Frankly, it makes it look like he doesn't know what he's doing. It's not good for this country or for this president." In March 2014, Putin will order a unilateral invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region, and ignore international calls for him to withdraw. (New York Times, Daily Beast, CNBC, Daily Beast, Donald Trump)
October 4, 2013: Trump Praises Putin, Insults Obama on Interview Broadcast on Russian Propaganda Network
Donald Trump gives an interview to talk show host Larry King, which airs on Russia's RT propaganda network. Trump once again fulsomely praises Vladimir Putin, as is his wont, and notes: "It's not a question of admire, I think he's done a very smart job. I think the letter was well crafted – very well crafted. And, I think he’s done a very smart job, because it was all about Syria, and while he got President Obama off the hook, by getting him off the hook he took over Syria and Assad survives."
In September 2016, Trump will give another interview to King that will also air on RT, and will subsequently deny that he knew King's show was broadcast over the Russian network. King will say that Trump is very aware of his show being broadcast over RT. Multiple media outlets reported King's show would air on RT in the summer of 2013, months before Trump's first RT interview with King. (RT, Daily Beast, Deadline)
Early November 2013: Trump Boasts of "Relationship" with Putin
In the days before the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Thomas Roberts of MSNBC asks pageant owner Donald Trump: "Do you have a relationship with Vladimir Putin? A conversational relationship or anything that you feel you have sway or influence over his government?" Trump responds: "I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he's very interested in what we're doing here today. He's probably very interested in what you and I am saying today, and I'm sure he's going to be seeing it in some form." (MSNBC, PolitiFact)
November 8-10, 2013: Trump Hosts Beauty Pageant in Moscow, Meets with Powerful Putin Confidants
Donald Trump, the owner of the Miss Universe beauty pageant, travels to Moscow to meet and be photographed with the contestants as part of a three-day jaunt whose primary function is business. Before the pageant, he takes part in a private dinner at the luxurious Nobu restaurant (a 15-minute stroll from the Kremlin) with over a dozen powerful Russian businessmen, many of whom are close allies with Vladimir Putin, and meets with several of them after dinner.
One of Putin's allies is Herman Gref, the chief executive officer of the state-controlled Sberbank PJSC, Russia's largest bank. Gref was Putin's minister of the economy between 2000 and 2007. He, along with Russian real-estate mogul and Trump crony Aras Agalarov, who owns the Nobu franchise, organized the meeting with Trump. Other participants include top Sberbank officials; at least one member of Putin's inner circle; two Russian developers, Alex Sapir and Rotem Rosen, who helped Trump develop his Trump SoHo project; and an alleged Russian mobster. After the event, Sapir will tell a reporter: "Over the last ten years, there have been no big new hotels built in Moscow. A lot of people from the oil and gas businesses have come to us asking to be partners in building a product like Trump SoHo there." Therefore, as former law professor Seth Abramson will note, Trump knew well before November 2013 that Russian business magnates wanted to be involved with him in business deals. This claim is bolstered by citations in the Steele dossier that show Trump's pro-Russia policy as a presidential campaign, and later as US president, is based on his desire to enrich himself by becoming involved with Russian oil and gas interests. Trump will later boast that he had partied with "almost all of the oligarchs," and will later add: "Almost all Russia's oligarchs were there. … The Russian market is attracted to me." In 2016, Gref will say: "There was a good feeling from the meeting. He's a sensible person, very lively in his responses, with a positive energy and a good attitude toward Russia." Agalarov later says that Trump answered questions, but posed none of his own. Gref's Sberbank has been the target of American sanctions since 2014 as part of the US's response to Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territory. Over sushi, Trump and his Russian hosts discussed financial and political matters, including the possible breakup of the European Union. (As of December 2016, Agalarov's corporate magazine will feature a picture of him, Trump, and Agalarov's son Emin posing in front of Nobu, and another picture showing Trump leaving his autograph on a Hollywood Boulevard-style Alley of Fame in Agalarov's Vegas mall outside Moscow. Emin, a pop singer, had Trump appear in one of his music videos to "fire" him – a reference to Trump's role as host of the TV show The Apprentice – while Emin lolled in a hot tub dreaming of luxury homes and barely-clad models.) In June 2013, Trump tweeted that he hoped Putin would come to the pageant and become his "new best friend," but Putin does not attend the pageant or the meeting at Nobu. Agalarov later explains Putin's decision not to come by saying that the pageant was not "a presidential format." The Washington Post will later say that Putin canceled his attendance at the last minute, but had a decorative gift box and a "warm note" delivered to Trump. Instead of appearing at the meeting himself, Putin sends one of his closest aides, Vladimir Kozhin, with the gift, and, presumably, with permission from Putin for his Russian business cronies to negotiate with Trump for the construction of Trump properties in Moscow. After the meeting in Moscow, Trump will tell a real estate magazine that he is working with Agalarov and others to build a Trump Tower in Crocus City, a development in Moscow. He also posts on Twitter to Agalarov: "I had a great weekend with you and your family. TRUMP TOWER MOSCOW is next." Agalarov later says that nothing came of the discussions about a Russian Trump Tower. Agalarov is lying. Abramson will later note in a massive "Twitterstorm" (using capital letters liberally for emphasis): "It's important to understand, first, that Trump's November 2013 weekend in Moscow was a CELEBRATION – the culmination of DECADES of work. Trump and Aras Agalarov have both PUBLICLY confirmed that the agreement to build Trump Tower Moscow was sealed during the 2013 pageant. What this meant was – after decades of *unsuccessful* business ventures in Moscow – Trump had a PUTIN-APPROVED DEAL to build a tower there." Less than two weeks after the pageant, Sberbank will announce a $2.4 billion loan for funding to build Trump Tower Moscow and other associated buildings in Crocus City. (Bloomberg News, Bloomberg News, Real Estate Weekly, Mother Jones, Washington Post, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance, Donald Trump, Seth Abramson, photo of Trump at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant via Daily Mail)
Trump, knowing he was culling favor with a powerful man – he had nuclear weapons and beautiful women – responded with obsequiousness that must have pleased such a spy king. Putin must have recognized this showman as a target who could be developed into a political asset friendly to Russia. — from The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance
November 8-10, 2013: Russian Intelligence Likely Conducts Covert Surveillance on Trump
Western intelligence officials later say it is almost certain that Russian intelligence agents conduct covert surveillance on Donald Trump during his high-profile visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant, which includes a two-night stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
A former counterintelligence official of what Mother Jones reporter David Corn calls "a Western spy service" in 2016 will tell Corn that he has information showing Russian intelligence has "mounted a years-long operation to cultivate or co-opt Trump and that this project included surveillance that gathered compromising material on the celebrity mogul." The official will say he has shared his information with the FBI, but Corn does not know whether the FBI actually investigated the claims. Multiple intelligence sources will say that Trump is an obvious high priority for Russian intelligence surveillance. During this time, Trump is an American businessman, celebrity, and an outspoken foe of President Obama, who has considered running for president at least twice. A former CIA official will tell Corn: "It is nearly certain that [Russian intelligence] would have done some sort of surveillance on him. Could have been low-key physical surveillance (following etc) or deeper surveillance, such as video/audio of hotel room and monitoring of electronics (your [communications] while [in Moscow] is on their network)." Cybersecurity expert James Lewis will tell Corn, "It's safe to assume that high-profile public figures and billionaires attract the attention of the Russian security services, including bugging any hotel rooms." Terrorism and intelligence expert Malcolm Nance says the Spetssvyaz, Russia's equivalent of the NSA, has specialized technical teams that, in Corn's words, "would have been all over Trump." Nance will tell Corn: "These communications intercept units are designated for high-importance personages of political and diplomatic standing, such as Donald Trump. These units would've employed the most advanced intelligence collection systems in the nation. Anything short of a highly encrypted communications suite using military-grade technology would be simple for Russian intelligence to exploit. Donald Trump's mobile phone would be among the easiest to exploit. His mobile phone, Bluetooth, and laptops were most likely not shielded and could have been intercepted and exploited any number of ways. This means virtually everything he said, everything he texted, everything he wrote, and every communication he had in the electronic spectrum would be in the possession of Russian intelligence then and now. His guest rooms in Moscow could have had virtually undetectable voice and video communications intercept devices planted in such a way that nothing could be done by Trump in private and would defy detection. The Spetssvyaz would also employ Russian military intelligence subunits as well as Federal Security Service (FSB) surveillance units which could follow him anywhere that he goes with seemingly normal people and detect, document, and provide a record of anything and anyone he met." It is unlikely Trump took any serious security precautions during his time in Moscow. He sent multiple tweets from his Android phone during the event, boasting about the large turnout and about being to hobnob with Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, who performs at the pageant. (Later, Miss Hungary Kata Sarka will tell reporters that Trump propositions her during his stay at the Ritz, a claim made likely by Trump's known propensity for young models.) It would have been childishly simple for Spetssvyaz agents to monitor that phone during Trump's time in Russia, and even to continue monitoring it once he returned to the US. Corn says that as of his writing, there is no indication of what, if anything, the surveillance might have captured. Trump is notorious for engaging in lewd behavior, and for having casual sexual encounters when the opportunities present themselves, regardless of the law or his marital status. Trump is, of course, married to his wife Melania, but she did not accompany him on the Moscow trip. "Any intelligence operative would be delighted to catch Trump in such an act," Corn will write. Nance will tell Corn: "That some of this would be salacious or information he would not want exposed to the public is without question. This unknown to the US intelligence community makes Donald Trump not just a national security threat but potentially a victim of blackmail by our oppositions intelligence agencies." Corn contrasts the Russians' opportunities to gain access and possible compromising intelligence on Trump with the Trump campaign's ongoing attempts to paint his opponent Hillary Clinton as a security risk by making repeated unfounded claims that she had jeopardized US security. Nance will say that Trump's documented actions could well pose "a monumental potential intelligence crisis never before seen in American history." Former law professor Seth Abramson later notes that the night Russia obtains the kompromat on Trump, Trump is partying with his business partner, Kremlin crony and real-estate oligarch Aras Agalarov. Abramson will quote a Western diplomat as saying: "If there are skeletons in Trump's dealings with Russia, Aras knows where they are. And if Aras Agalarov knows Donald Trump's skeletons, you wouldn't bet on Vladimir Putin not ALSO knowing." Agalarov is a partner in a proposed venture to build a Trump Tower in Moscow; the announcement of the project is made by Russian propaganda outlet RT on the same night as the pageant. The tower will never be built. (Mother Jones, Los Angeles Times, Seth Abramson)
November 8-10, 2013: Bodyguard: Trump Offered Five Prostitutes While in Moscow
According to November 2017 testimony given to the House Intelligence Committee by Donald Trump's bodyguard, Keith Schiller, a Russian participant in the Miss Universe Pageant offers to "send five women" to Trump's hotel room in Moscow. Schiller will claim that he views the offer as a joke, and responds, "We don't do that type of stuff."
Schiller's testimony is intended in part to dispute information made in the Steele dossier, which will allege that Trump has at least one encounter with prostitutes in the hotel. Schiller will describe his reaction to that allegation as, "Oh my God, that's bullshit." Schiller will say Trump laughs about the offer when Schiller describes it to him, and goes to bed. Schiller will testify that he stands outside Trump's hotel room for a time and then goes to bed himself. Schiller will testify that he has no way to know what may have happened in Trump's room after he went to bed. He will say that both he and Trump are aware of the likelihood that their rooms are surveilled. Schiller's lawyer Stuart Sears will issue a belligerent statement claiming that "the versions of Mr. Schiller's testimony being leaked to the press are blatantly false and misleading," and will add: "We are appalled by the leaks that are coming from partisan insiders from the House Intelligence Committee. It is outrageous that the very Committee that is conducting an investigation into leaks – purportedly in the public interest – is itself leaking information and defaming cooperative witnesses like Mr. Schiller. The Chairman and Ranking Member should investigate and hold accountable whoever is responsible for leaking false and misleading versions of Mr. Schiller's testimony. This conduct is indefensible and calls into question the credibility and motives of the Committee's investigation." A White House lawyer says the administration "and fair-minded people are pleased that Mr. Schiller was able to debunk yet another of the false claims in the fantasy dossier funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and prepared during a time its foreign author worked closely with paid Russian operatives." (NBC News)
November 19, 2013: Russian Bank Announces Funding for Trump Tower Moscow
Two weeks after American real-estate oligarch Donald Trump meets with an array of Russian oligarchs in Moscow, Russia's government-owned Sberbank announces the investment of $2.4 billion in unnamed real estate developments in Moscow's Crocus City, the location of the yet-to-be-announced Trump Tower Moscow.
The Sberbank loan is, according to Russian reports, "the largest loan granted to the real estate sector in the bank's history." The report states, "The bulk of the investment will be split between the Vegas III shopping mall, a 51-story office center, a high-class residential compound and two hotels." The "high-class residential compound" is almost certainly the Trump project. Crocus Group's president, Trump business colleague and Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, says: "The usual procedure for banks' clients is to start building after the loan agreement has been signed, but we have already been fueling the projects with our own funds and began building before any borrowed money came in, as is our usual practice. … The cost of a hotel room in Moscow is directly related to the business activity in Crocus City. Every time we have a conference, the prices go up and there are almost no vacancies." Retail experts warn that the occupancy and rental rates for the residential center and hotels are likely to be low when no unusual events are taking place in Moscow. Agalarov says the properties will almost certainly "gain the desired profit" regardless of predictions. (Moscow Times)
— 2014 —
March 6, 2014: Trump Boasts about Receiving a "Present" from Putin
At the annual CPAC event, featured speaker Donald Trump boasts about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. "You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago, I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great," he says. "Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present."
He contrasts his relationship with Putin with how he says Putin treats President Obama: "He's like toying with him; he's toying with him." Trump also boasts about being popular in China: "The thing they most want? Trump. Can you believe it?" he said. "My apartments, my cars; they love me. They love me." (US News, Politifact)
March 21, 2014: Trump Anticipates Rebuilding of "Russian Empire"
Donald Trump releases a pair of posts on Twitter mocking President Obama's popularity in comparison to the popularity numbers of Russia's Vladimir Putin, and says he looks forward to Putin rebuilding the "Russian Empire." He writes: "Putin has become a big hero in Russia with an all time high popularity. Obama, on the other hand, has fallen to his lowest ever numbers. SAD" and then: "I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the US!" (Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Daily Beast)
April 17, 2014: Trump Says Having Obama as President Puts US at Disadvantage against Putin
In a post on Twitter, Donald Trump writes: "America is at a great disadvantage. Putin is ex-KGB, Obama is a community organizer. Unfair." President Obama was a community organizer in Chicago. He is also a former US Senator and an accomplished Constitutional law scholar. (Donald Trump, Biography)
April 24, 2014: Trump Insults US Leadership, Praises Putin
Donald Trump adds to his increasing spate of insults towards Barack Obama and praise for Vladimir Putin, delivered via Twitter. Trump writes: "Putin has shown the world what happens when America has weak leaders. Peace Through Strength!" (Donald Trump)
May 27, 2014: Trump Claims He Met with Putin in Moscow
Donald Trump, addressing the National Press Club, says he met "indirectly and directly" with Vladimir Putin during Trump's November 2013 excursion to Moscow. Previously Trump has not directly stated he met with Putin.
He tells the audience: "Russia does not respect our country any longer. They see we've been greatly weakened, both militarily and otherwise, and he certainly does not respect President Obama. So what I would do … as an example, I own Miss Universe, I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success. The show was live from Moscow, and we had tremendous success there and it was amazing, but to do well, you have to get the other side to respect you, and he does not respect our president, which is very sad." (National Press Club, Politifact)
— 2015 —
May 6, 2015: Trump Dodges Question about Knowing Putin
In an interview with Fox News, Donald Trump says he understands Russia because of his experience with hosting a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in November 2013.
He tells interviewer Bret Baier: "I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event. An incredible success." Trump, as he has in previous interviews, dodges Baier's question about any previous encounters he may have had with Putin. Trump explains why he won't admit to knowing Putin: "I don't want to hurt his confidence." Trump says he didn't meet Putin during the Miss Universe Pageant, but says of Russia: "No, I got to meet a lot of people. And you know what? They want to be friendly with the United States. Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with somebody?" Trump does not admit to his boast of having a "relationship" with Putin. Nor does he note that while in Moscow for the pageant, he met with over a dozen powerful Russian businessmen, many of them close allies with Putin. (USA Today)
September 2015: In Kiev, Trump Critical of Russian Annexation of Crimea
During a video feed to political and business leaders in Kiev, Donald Trump says he strongly supports Ukrainian independence and criticizes President Obama for not standing up to Russia after that nation forcibly annexed Crimea in 2014: "Our president is not strong and he is not doing what he should be doing for the Ukraine. I don't think you're getting the support you need."
Trump has previously made statements critical of Russia and in support of Ukraine. In March 2014, Trump said that the Crimea invasion "should never have happened" and "We should definitely be strong. We should definitely do sanctions." However, after making Paul Manafort, a political operative with strong personal and professional ties to Russia, his campaign manager, Trump will flip his position to supporting Russia on the issue. One of his more frequent statements will be the echoing of a Kremlin talking point: "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were." (Politico, photo of Russian troops bound for Crimea via Daily Star)
September 2015-January 2016: Trump Violates Sanctions by Agreeing with Russians to Build Trump Tower in Moscow
After formally launching his presidential campaign in July 2015, Donald Trump violates US sanctions against Russia by formally entering into an agreement to build a Trump Tower complex in Moscow. Russia's Sberbank agreed to fund the project in 2013. The deal contradicts repeated claims Trump has made that his business has had "no relationship to Russia whatsoever."
Trump signs a letter of intent to build a hotel and condominium tower with Moscow-based I.C. Expert Investment Company in October 2015, four months after launching his presidential campaign. He also discusses the proposal to build the complex at least three times with Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen. In turn, Cohen engages in an email exchange with Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov,asking for assistance on the project. After reviewing architectural designs and considering financial options, the organization decides to abandon the project. Cohen will claim that Trump had no input into the decision to step away from the project. The decision is made "from solely a business standpoint," Cohen will claim, and the campaign has no input or involvement in the project. He will claim: "I did not ask or brief Mr. Trump, or any of his family, before I made the decision to terminate further work on the proposal. The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump's presidential campaign. … To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a nonbinding letter of intent in 2015." Cohen will also admit that Russian-born developer Felix Sater, a longtime business crony of Trump's, brokers the deal with Moscow. (Sater will later state that he and Trump are both going to prison for their criminal actions. He will also claim that the Trump Tower deal will help Trump get elected.) Sater will say in a statement: "I presented this signature development opportunity to my longtime friend Michael Cohen … which resulted in a signed letter of intent for this project. During the course of our communications over several months, I routinely expressed my enthusiasm regarding what a tremendous opportunity this was for the Trump Organization." Cohen will say that Peskov does not provide the permissions and guarantees needed for the project to commence, and therefore he decides that the project should be terminated: "Those permissions were never provided. I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email, nor any other contacts by me with Mr. Peskov or any other Russian government officials about the proposal." (ABC News, Bloomberg)
October 15, 2015: Trump Says No One Knows Who Shot Down MH17, Though US Intelligence Consensus Blames Pro-Russian Separatists
Donald Trump parrots Russia's denials that pro-Russian separatists shot down a commercial airliner in Ukrainian airspace in 2014. Trump ignores the US intelligence community's consensus that the separatists indeed fired the Russian-made missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
"That's a horrible thing that happened," Trump says. "It's disgusting and disgraceful but Putin and Russia say they didn't do it, the other side said they did, no one really knows who did it, probably Putin knows who did it. Possibly it was Russia but they are totally denying it." Trump is responding to a CNN question asking about the US intelligence consensus about the cause of the plane's downing. "They say it wasn't them," Trump adds. "It may have been their weapon, but they didn't use it, they didn't fire it, they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean to be honest with you, you'll probably never know for sure." He refuses to say what he would do as president to hold Russia accountable for the action, instead saying the US has no business intervening in overseas conflicts involving Russia. Trump's words are very close to Russia's own denials, released days before. (CNN)
November 10, 2015: Trump Lies about Meeting Putin on 60 Minutes
During a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by Fox Business Channel, Donald Trump tells viewers that he appeared along with Vladimir Putin on a broadcast of CBS news journal 60 Minutes.
During his defense of Putin's military annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, Trump says: "As far as the Ukraine is concerned … if Putin wants to go in – and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night. But, if Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%, and I can't understand how anybody would be against it. … They [Ukraine] blew up a Russian airplane. He cannot be in love with these people. He's going in, and we can go in, and everybody should go in. As far as the Ukraine is concerned, we have a group of people, and a group of countries, including Germany – tremendous economic behemoth – why are we always doing the work? We are – I'm all for protecting Ukraine and working – but, we have countries that are surrounding the Ukraine that aren't doing anything. They say, 'Keep going, keep going, you dummies, keep going. Protect us …'" Trump is lying on multiple fronts. Putin ordered a full invasion of Crimea beginning in March 2014, whereas Trump's language implies no such invasion has taken place. Moreover, Trump could not have had any contact with Putin during the 60 Minutes interview. Trump was interviewed for the show by Scott Pelley in his New York City penthouse apartment, while Putin was interviewed by Charlie Rose in Moscow. As Time will later note, "they weren't even on the same continent." (CBS News, Time, Politifact)
December 15, 2015: Trump Praises Putin, Defends Murders of Journalists
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, during one of his many appearances on MSNBC's Morning Joe, says that he is honored to have been called "talented" by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and goes on to heap praise on the Russian autocrat.
Asked by co-host Joe Scarborough whether he approves of Putin considering he is "also a person that kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries," Trump counters: "He's running his country and at least he's a leader. You know, unlike what we have in this country." Scarborough presses the point, saying, "But again, he kills journalists that don't agree with him." Trump refuses to condemn Putin's actions against journalists, saying: "Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe. There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on and a lot of stupidity and that's the way it is." Scarborough offered Trump a lifeline: "I'm confused. So you obviously condemn Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?" Trump answers, "Oh sure, absolutely." Trump then praised Putin's putative popularity among the Russian people, stating without evidence that his approval ratings are "in the 80s." National Review editor Charles C.W. Cooke later writes: "This, it should go without saying, is a disgrace of the highest order. It would, of course, be unseemly to hear anybody in the United States downplaying the murder of dissenters. But a presidential aspirant? In the Republican party? Two of Donald Trump’s opponents in this race are in America because their parents were forced out of Cuba by exactly the sort of regime that Trump is now applauding. How quickly the center of gravity would change were he the nominee." (National Review, National Review)
December 17, 2015: Trump Calls for Closer Relations between US, Russia after Putin Praises Him
Donald Trump doubles down on his effusive praise of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, saying it is a "great honor" to receive a compliment from Putin. The day before, Putin called Trump a "colorful, talented person" and "the absolute leader" in the US presidential race.
In a statement, Trump says: "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect." Putin said of Trump the day before: "He says that he wants to move to another, closer level of relations. Can we really not welcome that? Of course we welcome that." Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush criticized Trump's praise of Putin, saying: "A true freedom-loving conservative wouldn't be flattered by praise from a despot like Putin." CNN journalist Christian Whiton has written that Putin and Trump "share a love for spectacle and an appreciation of its ability to move low-information voters." Cyberwarfare expert and former intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance later writes that Putin's compliments essentially amount to an "endorsement" of Trump. (BBC, MSNBC, Tass, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)
— 2016 —
January 14, 2016: Racist Political Pundit and Putin Admirer Praises Trump
Self-described "paleoconservative" Pat Buchanan, an admitted racist and far-right political ideologue who has served as an adviser to three Republican presidents and was later fired by MSNBC for promoting overtly racist positions, calls Donald Trump "the future of the Republican Party."
Interviewed by the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, Buchanan says Trump echoes many of the platforms and proposals he ran on in his presidential bids in 1992, 1996 and 2000, including ending trade deals such as NAFTA and GATT, ending American interventionism, and building a wall between the US and Mexico. In 2013, Buchanan praised Vladimir Putin's "moral clarity," agreed with Putin that the Obama administration is "evil," and says Putin is leading Russia towards a new era of "traditional moral values." After Buchanan published his post on right-wing sites such as Town Hall and to his own blog, Daily Beast journalist Caitlin Dickson wrote, "[P]erhaps Buchanan's ode to Putin isn’t proof of any shift to the fringe but of the true state of American conservatism today." Conservative pundit David Frum wrote of Buchanan's praise of Putin, "Putin is a killer, a despot, and a thief on a world-historical scale, but the important thing is that he hates gays!" And in 2014, Putin campaign adviser Steve Bannon of Breitbart.com, a white supremacist, far-right ideologue and self-described "Leninist," praised Putin for his support of "what's called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism. A lot of people that are traditionalists are attracted to that. One of the reasons is that they believe that at least Putin is standing up for traditional institutions, and he's trying to do it in a form of nationalism – and I think that people, particularly in certain countries, want to see the sovereignty for their country, they want to see nationalism for their country. They don't believe in this kind of pan-European Union or they don't believe in the centralized government in the United States. They'd rather see more of a states-based entity that the founders originally set up where freedoms were controlled at the local level." (Washington Post, Pat Buchanan, Daily Beast)
January 26, 2016: Trump Video "Honoring" US Veterans Shows Russian Soldiers
Russian and American veterans alike are angry at Donald Trump's choice to identify Russian soldiers as American veterans in a video Trump posts on his Facebook page. The footage is identified as American soldiers, but the footage clearly shows veterans wearing the distinctive St. George ribbon and pins with the Communist hammer and sickle.
In the voiceover, Trump says: "Our great veterans are being treated terribly. The corruption in the Veterans Administration, the incompetence is beyond. We will stop that." Trump is attempting to tout his support for US veterans, but the footage he uses shows Russian soldiers from the city of Tolyatti wearing Soviet-era medals and decorations, filmed during a World War II memorial service held in Tolyatti in May 2015. Trump soon replaces the Russian footage with film of Trump meeting with American veterans. Sergey Yaschenko, the chairman of the Tolyatti organization of veterans of war, labor, the Armed Forces and law enforcement bodies, tells Russian news outlet TASS, "Of course, there was nothing bad about our veterans in the American video, but still the Tolyatti participants of the Great Patriotic War are angered that the footage with them was included in this video without informing the veterans about this." Yaschenko's organization adopts a resolution calling the use of the footage "provocation and misinformation." The St. George ribbon was traditionally associated with the Russian military, but has recently been adopted by right-wing Russian separatists. In June 2015, Trump tweeted a picture of fake Nazi soldiers while praising his own patriotism. (Gawker, Tass)
March 16-17, 2016: Trump Campaign Airs Ad Featuring Putin, ISIS, Clinton; Russian Official Says Kremlin Views Ad "Negatively"
The Trump campaign issues a campaign ad featuring Vladimir Putin, who has a black belt in judo, throwing an opponent to the ground, juxtaposed with a clip of a masked ISIS fighter. The ad says these two images portray America's "toughest opponents." It then shows a short clip of Hillary Clinton barking like a dog and then another image of Putin laughing. The video ends by proclaiming, "We don't need to be a punch line!"
Some pundits believe the ad is designed to flatter Putin while insulting Clinton and President Obama, but the Russians do not view it as flattery. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov tells American reporters: "We assess this negatively. … It's no secret that the demonization of Russia, unfortunately, is an essential feature of the American election campaign." (The clip of Clinton barking like a dog is from a story she has told about a fact-checking dog that would bark every time a Republican lies.) However, the mutual praise between Trump and Russia continues to flow. Dmitry Kiselev, who is a reliable state television spokesperson for what the Washington Post calls "the angriest voices inside the Kremlin," just recently praised Trump and called Americans who oppose Trump "Russia haters." He said, "Top Republicans usually abuse the state budget trying to scare everyone off with Russia, but Trump is trying to find a common language with Russia. It looks like they are trying to remove Trump from the campaign with all possible stupid-but-reliable methods." (Washington Post, Daily Beast)
March 27-28, 2016: Trump Says US Relationship with NATO Needs to Change, Organization May be "Obsolete"
Donald Trump tells a Fox News interviewer that NATO, the European-American alliance that has served as a linchpin of global stability after World War II, may be obsolete. He says the alliance may no longer be useful, and if he is elected president, he may look to transform the US's role in that organization.
"I don't mind NATO per se, but it has to be reconstituted, it has to be modernized," he says. "You know, we're dealing with NATO from the days of the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. We need to either transition into terror or we need something else, because we have to get countries together." Gary Schmitt, a security expert with the American Enterprise Institute, challenges Trump's characterization, saying: "It's a little strange that Trump has been so over-the-top about its relevance as nonexistent. I think the strange thing is with the rise of Putinism, you would think NATO's relevance would be important." Rival presidential contender Senator Ted Cruz says of Trump's stance on NATO: "Abandoning Europe, withdrawing from the most successful military alliance of modern times makes no sense at all. If Donald were president [and] he actually did what he said he would do, withdraw from NATO, it would hand a massive victory to Putin, a massive victory to [the Islamic State]. ISIS would be dancing in the street at the weakness and isolationism of Donald Trump." Trump also argues that the US spends too much in funding NATO, and says other nations ought to spend more. "[M]y policy is America first," he says. "And it'll always be America first." Trump says much the same on ABC News's Sunday broadcast This Week He says: "I think NATO's obsolete. NATO was done at a time you had the Soviet Union, which was obviously larger, much larger than Russia is today. I'm not saying Russia's not a threat. But we have other threats. We have the threat of terrorism and NATO doesn’t discuss terrorism, NATO's not meant for terrorism. NATO doesn’t have the right countries in it for terrorism. And what I'm saying is that we pay, number one, a totally disproportionate share of NATO. We're spending the biggest, the lion share's paid for by us, disproportionate to other countries. And if you look at the Ukraine, we're the ones always fight on the Ukraine. I never hear any other countries even mentioned and we're fighting constantly. We're talking about Ukraine, get out, do this, do that. And I mean, Ukraine's very far away from us. How come the countries near the Ukraine, surrounding the Ukraine, how come they're not opening up and they're not at least protesting? I never hear anything from anybody except the United States. What I'm saying is NATO is obsolete. NATO is obsolete and it's extremely expensive to the United States, disproportionately so. And we should readjust NATO. And it's going to have to be either readjusted to take care of terrorism or we're going to have to set up a new … a new coalition, a new group of countries to handle terrorism because terrorism is out of control." When host Jonathan Karl reminds Trump that Ukraine is not a NATO member and the US has no troops in Ukraine, Trump ignores him: "I'm not saying they're a member. What I'm saying about Ukraine is when we want to protect you … we're talk … when Russia's going into Ukraine, we immediately get NATO. I don’t hear from the other countries. I don't hear that having to do with Ukraine. I don't hear from the other countries in NATO. I don't hear from Germany. I don't hear from … I only hear from the United States. We've got to, you know, do this and we're constantly telling Russia what to do. And it's all fine if everybody partakes. But I don’t see other people partaking. And then you say why are we paying, Jon? Why are we paying disproportionately the cost of NATO? We're paying a tremendous amount more than we should be from the standpoint of proportion. So I look at that. I look at the fact that it was a long time ago. You know, there's nothing wrong with saying that a concept was good. But now it's obsolete or now it's outmoded. Now it can be trimmed up and it can be … it can be reconfigured and you can call it NATO but it's got to be changed. I mean, this thing was done many decades ago. And there's nothing wrong with saying it's obsolete. But it is obsolete. And by the way, I took a lot of heat for saying that. And now everyone's agreeing with me. I mean, I'm reading … I'm reading pages of media where now people are agreeing with me. I always take heat. I mean, I listen to somebody this morning on one of your competing channels, talking about the Washington Post. I gave a very good interview to the Washington Post. And frankly, I thought it was very good. You know, it's very interesting. Everybody was knocking on NATO, like they do usually when I talk about … when I talk about illegal immigration. I went … I went through hell with illegal immigration. Now everyone's saying Trump is right. When I talked about the problems that we have with trade, now they're all saying Trump is right. Same thing with NATO. When I did that two days, I took abuse from the media, falsely. Now people are saying many, many people are saying, you know, Trump is right. He's absolutely right about NATO." Trump does not cite any of the "many, many people" who allegedly agree with him about scrapping NATO. (Washington Times, ABC News)
May 2016: Former Miss Hungary Says Trump Propositioned Her in Moscow
Former Miss Hungary pageant winner Kara Sarka says that while she participated in the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, pageant owner Donald Trump propositioned her for sex in his hotel room.
Sarka first tells Hungarian radio show host Kasza Tibor that during a pageant "after party," Trump gave her his business card, private telephone number, and hotel room number at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton, where he was staying for the pageant as well as for business meetings with a number of Russian oligarchs and cronies of Vladimir Putin. She tells Tibor: "He grabbed my hand like this. He was standing in the middle of a group of bodyguards, he grabbed my hand, he pulled me towards himself, and he asked, 'Who are you?' He asked in English. Then, I was so surprised, I'll tell you who it was in a moment, I was so surprised that I couldn't say anything except 'Hungary.'" She then says: "He gave me his business card with his private number, and he told me in which hotel, which room he was staying in, and that his name is Donald Trump. … By the way, I still have the business card." Later on, she provides Hungarian tabloid Blikk with a photo of the business card and will say, "He's not my type." She says she never went to Trump's room. The story gets little traction in the Western media, possibly because the story will first break on the website of Hollywood gossip Perez Hilton and not on a mainstream media site, and because it is not publicized in the West until January 2017. Former law professor Seth Abramson will write that the story bolsters the credibility of the Steele dossier, which alleged that Trump had sex with Russian prostitutes during his November 2013 visit, and moreover proves what Abramson terms "Trump's dishonesty as to the dossier as a whole." Trump has issues repeated and vociferous denunciations of the dossier, calling the entire compilation nothing but fictions, but if Sarka's claims are true, then his claims about the dossier are themselves untrue. Trump has said he would have never done anything untoward in Moscow because he knew he was being surveilled the entire time he was there. However, Sarka claims Trump mentioned no worries about surveillance nor did he mention any precautions he might take towards keeping a visit by her to his hotel room secret. Abramson will conclude that "it is Sarka's story of an apparent romantic solicitation by the President-elect that may constitute the first breach of Mr. Trump's vigorous defense against the dossier's explosive allegations." (Huffington Post, Perez Hilton, Seth Abramson)
June 15, 2016: Congressional Republican Leader Tells Colleagues Trump Paid by Putin
During a private conversation with fellow Congressional Republicans, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), a close ally of Donald Trump, says that he believes Trump is being paid by Vladimir Putin. After McCarthy makes his statement, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) shuts down the conversation and swears all of the participants to secrecy.
An audio recording of the conversation is made available to the Washington Post in May 2017. Before the conversation, Ryan and McCarthy had met separately with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman, who discussed Russia's penchant for financing "populist" politicians in Eastern Europe to undermine the pro-Western government of a number of Eastern European countries. The transcript of the audio recording shows Ryan, McCarthy, House member Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), House Republican Conference policy director Evan McMullin, and perhaps others participating in the discussion. The transcript begins with a scattered discussion of the meetings with Groysman, and the Russian propaganda effort to gain influence in Ukraine and elsewhere. McCarthy then says, "The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump," and laughs. Ryan asks who the Russians "delivered" the research to, and McCarthy blurts out, "There’s … there's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." Some present in the meeting laugh; Rohrabacher is a fervent support of Putin and Russia. "Swear to God," McCarthy adds. Ryan then shuts down the conversation: "This is an off the record. No leaks, all right? This is how we know we're a real family here." Scalise agrees, saying, "That's how you know that we’re tight." Ryan then says, "What's said in the family stays in the family." Despite the audio recording, both Ryan and McCarthy will initially deny the conversation ever took place. When confronted with the audio recording, Ryan spokesperson Brendan Buck will say: "This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What's more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia's interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity." McCarthy spokesperson Matt Sparks will add that the conversation "was a failed attempt at humor." Rohrabacher spokesperson Ken Grubbs will say that his employer has been a consitent proponent of "working closer with the Russians to combat radical Islamism. The congressman doesn't need to be paid to come to such a necessary conclusion." In February 2017, McMullin will disagree. In a New York Times op-ed, he will write that Trump's numerous posts and comments praising Putin "led one senior Republican leader [McCarthy] to dolefully inform his peers that he thought Mr. Trump was on the Kremlin's payroll, suggesting that Mr. Trump had been compromised by Russian intelligence. Other leaders were surprised by their colleague's frank assessment, but did not dispute it." Clearly McMullin did not view the conversation as an attempt as humor. In May, he will say: "It''s true that Majority Leader McCarthy said that he thought candidate Trump was on the Kremlin's payroll. Speaker Ryan was concerned about that leaking." (Washington Post, Washington Post, New York Times, photo of Kevin McCarthy via All Len All)
July 20, 2016: Trump Says US May Not Defend NATO Allies Against Russian Military Incursions
Donald Trump says if he is elected president, he will consider upending decades of US policy and refuse to defend NATO allies against Russian military incursions. Trump, who is poised to accept the GOP nomination for president at the Republican National Convention, says he would look at whether they have paid their dues to NATO.
Given the example of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, recent NATO members whom all fear a Russian takeover, Trump say, "If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes" to helping them against a Russian invasion. No other major presidential candidate has ever suggested imposing conditions on the US's assistance to fellow NATO members in the event of a military incursion. Trump has previously threatened to withdraw American forces from Europe and Asia if American allies fail to pay more for American protection. Trump also says he would refuse to pressure Turkey or other autocratic allies about their dismal records on human rights and governmental purges, saying the US should try to "fix our own mess" before working with other nations. Trump goes on to praise President Erdogan of Turkey, and says widespread concerns about democracy and human rights violations under his regime are not worth considering. While watching the convention on television in his hotel room, Trump tells a reporter: "I don't think we have a right to lecture. Look at what is happening in our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?" He says he "would prefer to be able to continue" current agreements with NATO and other allies, but those allies need to pay more for defense costs. He says he feels free to unilaterally longstanding treaties he doesn't like, and will redefine what it means to be an ally of the US. Trump says his rallying cry of "American First!" will be the defining theme of his presidency, and says the historical ties of that slogan to pro-Nazi American organizations are irrelevant. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says: "Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO." He says he has no wish to interfere in the US election, but adds, "Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States." But Trump reiterates that as long as the US is losing money on its military committments, those committments may not continue to be in effect. He says that withdrawing forces from places like Europe or the Korean Peninsula would be cost-effective, saying that if needed, the US could deploy its forces directly from US soil and save money. Military experts deride that view, saying it is far more cost-effective to keep forces based overseas, in part because to withdraw those forces would mean losing the financial support of their host nations. MSNBC pundit Steve Benen writes: "I can relate to those who tire of hearing reporters, pundits, and commentators like me characterize various campaign developments as wildly important, game-changing moments, which are soon after forgotten. But this isn't hyperbole: Trump's interview with the Times should change the nature of the 2016 presidential campaign. He's articulating a perspective Americans have never before heard from a major-party presidential nominee. In the American tradition, there have been plenty of isolationists, who believe it's in our interests – and perhaps even the world's interests – to withdraw and turn inward. But that’s not what Trump is articulating. Rather, Donald J. Trump is saying the United States lacks the moral authority to lead. As far as he's concerned, we're just not a good enough country to command respect abroad." Benen adds" "What's the difference between Trump's perspective and that of [an] anti-American foreign leader? For all intents and purposes, there is no difference. … Of course, there's a broader context to all of this. Trump is trashing NATO, which is what Russia's Vladimir Putin wants to see; Trump is balking at support for US allies abroad, which is what Russia's Vladimir Putin wants to see; and Trump is publicly trashing America's moral authority, which is what Russia's Vladimir Putin wants to see." (New York Times, MSNBC)
What's the difference between Trump's perspective and that of [an] anti-American foreign leader? For all intents and purposes, there is no difference. — Steve Benen
July 25, 2016: Trump Tweet Seems to Confirm Russia Leaked Emails to Benefit His Candidacy
In a tweet, Donald Trump seems to confirm that Russia leaked the DNC emails to assist his candidacy. Trump writes: "The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me." Trump later says that he meant the tweet as a joke. (Daily Beast, Donald Trump)
August 2016: FBI Explores Communications between Trump Organization, Russian Bank
Congressional leaders are given a classified briefing on a lead pursued by the FBI as part of its ongoing investigation into the Russian attempts to compromise the US election. The FBI pursued the possibility that the Trump Organization was in secret email communication with a Russian bank.
Publicly, the FBI is no longer convinced that the secret email channel existed between Trump's firm and the Alfa Bank, whose owners have longstanding ties to Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. FBI computer specialists learned of an unusual stream of activity between a Trump Organization server and the Alfa Bank's computer networks. Two servers at Alfa had sent over 2700 "look up" messages to the Trump server, an initial step in computers attempting to communicate with one another. The FBI specialists ultimately conclude that the contacts could have been merely marketing emails or spamming attempts. (New York Times, Medium)
August 1, 2016: Trump Claims Russia Never Invaded Crimea, Walks Back Claim, Blames Obama
Donald Trump tells television viewers that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not make a military move into Ukraine, even though Putin has already done that, invading Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula beginning in March 2014 and claiming that area now belongs to Russia.
Trump tells ABC host George Stephanopoulos: "He's not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He's not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want." Stephanopoulos retorts, "Well, he's already there, isn't he?" Trump responds: "Okay, well, he's there in a certain way. But I'm not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you're talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he's going away. He takes Crimea." Stephanopoulos suggests that Trump could recognize Putin's claim on Crimea if he is elected, and Trump agrees he may do so: "I'm going to take a look at it. But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also ... just so you understand, that was done under Obama's administration. … And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it's a mess. And that's under the Obama's administration with his strong ties to NATO. So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don't blame Donald Trump for that."
Walks Back Previous Claims of Knowing Putin
When pressed, Trump denies any relationship with Putin, saying: "I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin. Just so you understand, he said very nice things about me. But I have no relationship with him. I don't – I've never met him. However, during a November 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump said, "I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates." During the interview, Trump reframes his original statement, adding: "We did 60 Minutes together. By the way, not together-together, meaning he was probably shot in Moscow … [and] I was shot in New York." In May 2014, Trump told a National Press Club audience that he had met "indirectly and directly" with Putin.
Trump Refutes Criticism, Blames Obama for Ukraine
Trump receives a blizzard of criticism for his muddled and apparently ignorant claims about Russia and Crimea, and shortly thereafter issues a spate of Twitter posts attempting to clarify his position. He now says he meant to say that Russia wouldn't move into Ukraine once he becomes president. "When I said in an interview that Putin is 'not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down,' I am saying if I am President. Already in Crimea!" he writes. He then tries to blame the Obama administration for Russia's move into Crimea: "So with all of the Obama tough talk on Russia and the Ukraine, they have already taken Crimea and continue to push. That's what I said!" Trump says during a campaign rally that afternoon: "You want to go back? You want to go back and have World War III? That [the Crimean invasion] was on Obama's watch." Trump's campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis tells MSNBC that Trump "was thinking about something else" when he made the claim about Russia not invading Crimea. And to criticism that he is too complimentary towards Putin, Trump says: "Wouldn't it be great if we got along with Russia?" Clinton campaign policy advisor Jake Sullivan says of Trump's interview: "Today, [Trump] gamely repeated Putin's argument that Russia was justified in seizing the sovereign territory of another country by force. This is scary stuff. … But it shouldn't surprise us. This comes on the heels of his tacit invitation to the Russians to invade our NATO allies in Eastern Europe." (ABC News, CNN)
August 3, 2016: Security Expert Says Trump's Crimea Stance Indicates Trump "Parroting Kremlin Propaganda," Poses Dire Threat to Global Stability
Security expert John Schindler, a former NSA analyst and counterintelligence officer, War College professor and author, writes that there are only two explanations why Donald Trump initially denied Russia invaded Crimea and continues to defend Russia's aggressive, expansionist foreign policy: "Either he is clueless about Crimea and Ukraine, being totally unfamiliar with the basic issues, and decided to pontificate on the subject regardless while on national television. Or he is consciously parroting Kremlin propaganda. There is no third choice here."
Addressing Trump's attempt to blame President Obama for the Crimea invasion, Schindler writes "that the only people who blame Obama for Putin's annexation of Crimea are Kremlin propagandists, usually of the paid variety." Schindler writes that "publicly acquiescing in Russia's violent theft of Crimea, while lying about the Kremlin's misconduct in Ukraine, represents a political and moral turning point for the Trump campaign. Simply put, only Russia plus its friends and vassals recognize Moscow's occupation of Crimea. The rest of the world has been admirably clear that the theft of Crimea was an illegal act that ought not be recognized. ... Recognizing Russia's illegal occupation was not a political, much less a partisan, issue in our country, beyond its odd fringes -- until Donald Trump made it one." He concludes: "Trump's concept of international relations will only encourage more aggression against the weak while quite possibly unleashing major war and geopolitical hell with it." (New York Observer)
August 5, 2016: Trump "Dangerous," "Unwitting Agent of the Russians," Says Former CIA Chief
Former acting CIA Director Mike Morell writes an op-ed for the New York Times endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, and blasting Republican candidate Donald Trump. Trump has no experience in national security matters, Morell writes, and worse, he writes, "[t]he character traits he has exhibited during the primary season suggest he would be a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief."
He says Trump's calls to ban Muslims from entering the US would inflame Muslims around the world and trigger more extremist attacks. Morell even calls Trump "an unwitting Russian agent:" "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump's vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated. Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests -- endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia's annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States. In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation." Morell concludes, "Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security." Trump responds by issuing a statement accusing Clinton and President Obama of directly working to destabilize the Middle East and allow Iran to build nuclear weapons. He goes on to accuse Clinton of "allowing Americans to be slaughtered at Benghazi," calls her "a profound national security risk" about the ongoing email "scandal" that Clinton is embroiled in, calls Clinton "unfit to serve as president," and calls Morell "another Obama-Clinton pawn." (Trump's accusations about Clinton and Obama are lies – none can be validated by facts.) Trump's running mate Mike Pence derides Morell's comments by noting that a CIA briefer once described ISIS as "the J.V. team." (New York Times, PBS, Mediaite, Daily Mail)
August 5, 2016: Security Expert Agrees that Trump is "Unwitting Agent" of Russian Government
Security expert John Schindler, a former NSA analyst and counterintelligence officer, War College professor and author, says that he shares the assessment by former CIA Director Mike Morell that Donald Trump is "an unwitting agent" of the Russian government. Many of his former colleagues in the American intelligence community agree.
Schindler writes, "I don't know any spies who would substantially disagree with Morell's comments on the Republican nominee." Schindler defines "unwitting agent" as "what Lenin (supposedly) famously termed a Useful Idiot, that is, someone who is duped into spouting propaganda that he may not fully understand. This is a harsh assessment but more charitable than the accusation that Trump's [sic] is a witting agent of the Kremlin." The evidence for this charge, Schindler writes, "is circumstantial but impressive." He cites Trump's consistent stream of business dealings in Russia, some going back to the Soviet era, and allegations that "less-than-clean Russian money" has gone to fund the Trump Organization. He cites Trump's refusal to release his tax returns. Such circumstantial evidence "would make any counterintelligence officer wonder what's going on here, particularly given the Kremlin's willingness to clandestinely throw money at causes in the West it deems friendly to Russia and Putin." Schindler goes on to list the number of Trump's closest political associates with deep ties to the Kremlin: Trump's top national security advisor Michael Flynn, Trump's Russian expert Carter Page (who during a recent visit to Russia attacked America for being the cause of tension between the two countries), and Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has close business and personal ties to former Ukrainian autocrat and Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych. "There's a lot about Donald Trump's ties to the Kremlin we don't know," Schindler writes, "but what we do know is bad enough. His campaign is riddled at top levels by people with troubling connections to Moscow. His business dealings with Russia are not transparent. His casual mouthing of pro-Kremlin propaganda has become routine." Schindler says these observations lead intelligence experts to "view Donald Trump as a stalking horse, witting or not, for Vladimir Putin. Mike Morell simply said publicly what many veteran spies have been saying privately for a long time." Schindler then cites his personal experience in the matter: "I know because I'm one of them. During my time in the counterintelligence business, the Trump Organization came up more than once in discussions of American businesses with cozy ties to Moscow. I'm not free to say more -- I take my lifetime secrecy oath seriously -- but it's time the American people start to hear the truth. I was among those who repeatedly warned the GOP that Donald Trump had connections to the Kremlin that needed thorough examination and careful vetting. During the Republican primary, as Trump demolished one rival after another, some of his opponents knew that the real estate mogul turned reality TV star had troubling ties to Moscow. They did nothing with this information." (New York Observer)
August 15, 2016: Trump's Daughter on Vacation with Putin's Girlfriend
Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Donald Trump and a senior advisor to the Trump administration, is on vacation in Croatia with Wendi Deng Murdoch, the rumored girlfriend of Vladimir Putin. Deng Murdoch is the former wife of Fox News co-owner Rupert Murdoch. She introduced Ivanka Trump to her eventual husband, New York real estate magnate and publisher Jared Kushner, who is also a senior advisor for Trump. Deng Murdoch has denied being involved with Putin, and told fashion magazine Vogue she has never met him. (The Hill)
September 13, 2016: Russian Official Defends Trump from UN Criticism
Russia lodges a formal complaint with the United Nations over a top UN official's criticisms of Donald Trump and some far-right European politicians, emphasizing the links between Trump and the Kremlin.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, says he has complained to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over remarks by Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights. Zeid's two speechs denounced "demagogues," and he specifically named Trump and several far-right "populist" European politicians. He went so far as to liken their tactics to ISIS propaganda. Churkin says of his complaint: "Prince Zeid is overstepping his limits from time to time and we're unhappy about it. He criticized a number of heads of state, government. He should stick to his file, which is important enough." A senior UN diplomat says Churkin specifically "condemned the fact that Zeid mentioned Trump." Clinton campaign advisor Jake Sullivan says of Churkin's remarks: "This is not only strange – it's scary. A major-party candidate for the presidency of the United States is being protected by the Kremlin. Wow." (Associated Press)
October 20, 2016: Clinton Accuses Trump of Being Putin's "Puppet"
In the third and final presidential debate, held at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton accuses Donald Trump of being the "puppet" of the Kremlin.
Clinton is again asked about information that was made public from the hacked emails leaked by WikiLeaks. She answers the question (about her stance on immigration) and then goes forward: "But you are very clearly quoting from WikiLeaks. What is really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions. Then they have given that information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting it on the internet. This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government. Clearly from Putin himself in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election. So I actually think the most important question of this evening, Chris, is finally, will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this, and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in this election. That he rejects Russian espionage against Americans, which he actually encouraged in the past. Those are the questions we need answered. We've never had anything like this happen in any of our elections before." Trump responds to the question about immigration and then says: "Now we can talk about Putin. I don't know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good. He has no respect for her. He has no respect for our president. And I'll tell you what. We're in very serious trouble. Because we have a country with tremendous numbers of nuclear warheads, 1,800, by the way. Where they expanded and we didn't. 1,800 nuclear warheads. And she is playing chicken. Look. … Putin from everything I see has no respect for this person." Clinton interjects, "Well, that's because he would rather have a puppet as president of the United States." Trump snaps: "No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet. No, you're the puppet." Clinton bores in: "It is pretty clear you won't admit that the Russians have engaged in cyber attacks against the United States of America. That you encouraged espionage against our people. That you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do. And that you continue to get help from him because he has a very clear favorite in this race. So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We've never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17, 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin. And they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing." Trump interjects over Clinton and moderator Chris Wallace, "She has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else." Clinton tries to reiterate that 17 US intelligence agencies have pinned the responsibility for the hacks and the propaganda operation on Russia, and Trump insists: "Our country has no idea. … Yeah, I doubt it, I doubt it." Clinton says: "He would rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely – " to which Trump responds, "She doesn't like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way. … Excuse me. Putin has outsmarted her in Syria, he's outsmarted her every step of the way." Wallace asks: "The top national security officials of this country do believe that Russia has been behind these hacks. Even if you don't know for sure whether they are, do you condemn any interference by Russia in the American election? … Do you condemn their interference?" to which Trump responds: "Of course I condemn, of course I condemn … I don't know Putin. I have no idea – " Wallace interjects, "I'm not asking you that," but Trump continues: "I never met Putin. This is not my best friend. But if the United States got along with Russia, it wouldn't be so bad. Let me tell you, Putin has outsmarted her and Obama at every single step of the way. Whether it is Syria. You name it. Missiles. Take a look at the start-up that they signed. The Russians have said, according to many, many reports, I can't believe they allowed us to do this. They create warheads and we can't. The Russians can't believe it. She has been outsmarted by Putin and all you have to do is look at the Middle East. They've taken over. We've spent $6 trillion. They've taken over the Middle East. She has been outsmarted and outplayed worse than anybody I've ever seen in any government whatsoever." Trump is lying. He has boasted on numerous occasions about his close ties to both Russia and Putin. He has had frequent and numerous business dealings in Russia, and many of his closest campaign officials still maintain deep business and political ties with Russian magnates and politicians. In July, Slate reporter Franklin Foer wrote that Trump's "slavish devotion" to Putin is likely tied to Trump's dependence on Russian investors. Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald will later write that both British and American intelligence agencies are shocked at Trump's dismissal of their information, saying that "our country has no idea" and "I doubt it." The American intelligence agencies as well as European allies' agencies are convinced Russia is behind the cyberattacks. Eichenwald will write: "The foreign intelligence services had been sharing what they knew about this with the Americans, and Trump had been told about it. But he blithely dismissed the conclusion of not only the United States but its allies as well, based on absolutely nothing. Trump had no apparent means of developing his own information to contradict the findings of intelligence agencies around the world. And that he would so aggressively fight to clear Putin and cast aspersions on all Western intelligence agencies, left the British officials slack-jawed." (Politico, Slate)
November 7, 2016: Russian Spy Posts Message Supporting Trump, Says Trump Has Powerful Backers
Celebrated Russian spy Anna Chapman, who was deported back to Russia by the US in 2010, posts a supportive message for Donald Trump on Instagram.
She writes: "In an interview with Russia Today Julian Assange said that Trump won't be allowed to win because Clinton is being backed by banks, intelligence services, arms companies and foreign money. Meanwhile, Trump has pushed everyone away. Many people think that Trump doesn't have a chance at winning, because he is not part of the establishment, he is a loner politician, who has only his own support. But the American political system has so many filters that a truly independent person has no chances at winning. Trump is a politician who has the backing of forces just as influential as those behind Clinton. The only difference is that they like to keep a low profile, because their vision of the future world order means a revolution in US foreign policy. And after that revolution happens, there will be no room for people like Clinton, who has blood on their hands." (Vanity Fair)
November 12, 2016 and After: Russian White Supremacist Propagandist Writes about Plan to Make Trump President and Reshape Global Alliances
After responding to Donald Trump's call for an uprising against President Obama, Kremlin propagandist and Putin ally Konstantin Rykov posts a response to Trump reading, "I'm ready. What should I do?" He receives a photo of a grinning Trump flashing the thumbs-up sign in return. Four years later, in a set of posts on Facebook written four days after Trump's 2016 presidential victory, Rykov will explain the plan he concocts to recruit Trump as an ally, get him elected US president, and reshape the face of global alliances.
Rykov will write: "For four years and two days … it was necessary to get to everyone in the brain and grab all possible means of mass perception of reality. Ensure the victory of Donald in the election of the US President. Then create a political alliance between the United States, France, Russia (and a number of other states) and establish a new world order. Our idea was insane, but realizable. In order to understand everything for the beginning, it was necessary to 'digitize' all possible types of modern man. Donald decided to invite for this task – the special scientific department of the 'Cambridge University.' British scientists from Cambridge Analytica suggested making 5,000 existing human psychotypes – the 'ideal image' of a possible Trump supporter. Then … put this image back on all psychotypes and thus pick up a universal key to anyone and everyone. Then it was only necessary to upload this data to information flows and social networks. And we began to look for those who would have coped with this task better than others. At the very beginning of the brave and romantic [story] was not very much. A pair of hacker groups, civil journalists from WikiLeaks and political strategist Mikhail Kovalev. The next step was to develop a system for transferring tasks and information, so that no intelligence and NSA could burn it." In November 2017, journalist Martin Longman will write: "Keep in mind that this was all written just four days after Trump was elected. It was before people started asking questions about Cambridge Analytica or targeted social media ads. Mr. Rykov might have been boasting as he spiked the football in the end zone, perhaps even elevating or exaggerating his role. What he didn't think at that point, however, is that he had any reason to hide what he'd done."
Who is Konstantin Rykov?
Rykov is called "Putin's mouthpiece" by some Western journalists. He will create a Russian-language, pro-Trump website, and will feature Trump and his campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" on his Twitter homepage. Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Russia under President Obama, will say: "Rykov is considered to be one of the leading pro-Kremlin bloggers in Russia. As you can see from his Twitter feed, he is very active. And he loves Trump." Another source, who will remain anonymous, will call Rykov a "chief voice and troll for the Kremlin on Twitter." Rykov describes himself on Wikipedia as "one of the first professional Russian Internet producers" who began working in 2002 as the "head of the Internet department of the First Channel of the state television." He was a member of Russia's parliament, the Duma, as part of Putin's United Russia party. Rykov is also a blatant white supremacist who promotes far-right, white nationalist parties such as France's National Front and its leaders, Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen. Rykov supports international political figures who "tend to express views that are more friendly to the Kremlin," are "supportive of engagement" with Russia, and who either support or do not complain about Putin's aggressive foreign policy and repressive tactics towards Russian citizens.
Dovetailing with Trump
Putin has his own ties to far-right, neo-Nazi political parties, and Rykov echoes those ties. So does Donald Trump. Marine Le Pen will appear at Trump Tower in January 2017 to raise money for her own political ambitions with fascist figure George "Guido" Lombardi. Putin and Rykov approve of Britain's Nigel Farage, the head of the far-right, white supremacist UKIP; Farage will dine with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon at the White House in February 2017, before moving on to meet with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London. Hungary's Viktor Orban, a far-right autocrat and white supremacist, will receive visits from Trump campaign officials Carter Page and J.D. Gordon. The neo-Nazi Austrian Freedom Party will claim to meet with Trump campaign advisor and (briefly) White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn during the same ceremony where they will sign a "working agreement" with Putin's United Russia. Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache will offer to act as "a neutral and reliable intermediary and partner" between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin. Longman will observe: "The far right in Europe is uncontroversially working hand in glove with Russian intelligence, so it's highly relevant that the far right in Europe has increasingly close ties to the far right in the United States. A prime example of this is Frank Gaffney who served as the chief foreign policy adviser to Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and then went on to enthusiastically stump for Trump." Rykov will be a key player in the Kremlin's attempts to promote Trump in specific, and white nationalists in general, so, Longman will write, his claim that he partnered with Trump in 2012 to win the election with Russian backing in 2016 is quite believable. "When Rykov made these statements, we didn't know how Cambridge Analytica had been utilized or how they targeted users on Facebook in key districts in swing states in order to maximize Trump's support. In retrospect, what Rykov was saying now makes a lot of sense and fits in with what we know." In the summer of 2016, Cambridge Analytica will offer to work with WikiLeaks to find and release illegally hacked emails from Hillary Clinton. Rykov writes that he will obtain the assistance, not only of Cambridge Analytica, but of "[a] pair of hacker groups," presumably the governmental hacking groups FANCY BEAR and COZY BEAR, "civil journalists from WikiLeaks and political strategist Mikhail Kovalev," a little-known figure. Longman will conclude: "What it looks like to me is that on November 12th, 2016, Konstantin Rykov posted pretty close to a full confession in Facebook. We've spent over a year since then trying to piece together what happened, but there's a strong sense in which he already told us. Could he possibly have made such boasts without having any knowledge of what would soon be divulged or discovered about Russian hacking and collusion between Wikileaks and Cambridge Analytica or the work that was done by Cambridge Analytica and how it was utilized on social media? Of course not. His boasts were rooted in facts and inside knowledge. Trump is no different from far right European stooges like Viktor Orban and Nigel Farage. They're all in league together and we now have a nice roadmap for laying out the entire conspiracy." (Washington Monthly, Washington Examiner)
November 14, 2016: Trump, Putin Discuss Thawing Relations between US, Russia
The Russian propaganda outlet RT reports that Donald Trump and Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin speak via telephone. The call is confirmed by Trump officials.
One of the major topics of conversation is Syria, and another is a shared vision of improved ties between the US and Russia. The Kremlin states that Putin and Trump agree on a common vision of "uniting efforts in the fight with the common enemy number one – international terrorism and extremism." Tentative plans are developing for the two to meet in person, RT writes. Trump issues a statement saying he is "very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia." Russian parliament speakere Vyacheslav Volodin tells a Russian news broadcast that Putin and Trump share views on a wide range of matters which might "radically change the situation" in US-Russia relations. "Putin and Trump have numerous common points and shared views," Volodin says. Volodin blames President Obama for the current chilly state of relations between the two nations, and says Obama "whipped up tensions, therefore contributing to the growing animosity" between the two. Volodin expects Trump to be far friendlier towards Russia: "If Trump brings his promises to life, it will radically change the situation. We have only seen Trump as a candidate but we are yet to see what [kind of] president he will be." A week later, McClatchy News will report that in the weeks following his election victory, Trump and his staffers have had more contact with Putin and the Kremlin than with any other nation. Trump and Putin have spoken at least twice by phone, the report will state, and their aides have additional contacts. "That's more contact than Trump is known to have had with any other world leader since he defeated Clinton in the Nov. 8 election," McClatchy will write. Putin will say that he and Trump have agreed to "normalize" US-Russia relations. (RT, McClatchy News)
December 3, 2016: Russian Leaders: Russia Won US Presidential Election
Russia won the US presidential election, Russian leaders say. "It turns out that United Russia won the elections in America," says Viktor Nazarov, the governor of Omsk, Russia.
Most Russian leaders anticipate a quick move by the Trump administration to lift some or all of the sanctions imposed by the US after Russia's 2014 invasion and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, and its 2016 sabotage of the US presidential election. International attorney Robert Amsterdam, who has several powerful Russian clients, says: "It's much more about institutions, not about personalities. [Putin] was seriously impacted by the sanctions because it targeted his closest friends and now they think Trump is going to change that." Russia's ultimate goal is to establish itself as a co-equal world power with the US, in more of an antagonistic than cooperative relationship. The 2014 sanctions were a severe setback to the accomplishment of that goal. Russia anticipates that with the sanctions gone, it will be able to resume its aggressive offshore oil drilling program in the Arctic, among other things. Another area of potential change is Syria: while Trump believes that Russia will join the US in battling Islamist radicalism in that nation, experts warn that the US and Russia are actually at odds there. (CBS News)
December 13, 2016: Putin, Trump Leadership Styles Very Similar, Writer Opines
Writer and Russian expert Masha Gessen writes an article for the New York Review of Books detailing the striking similarities between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Gessen says that the two are very similar in their leadership styles.
Trump has repeatedly gushed over Putin's "very strong control over his country," repeatedly belittling President Obama in comparison to Putin. Gessen writes: "That revealed a lot about Trump's concept of the presidency – he seems to believe that effectiveness is measured by the extent to which the leader 'controls' the country. But how might that play out in practice? To what extent can Putin provide insight into Trump's understanding of power?" Gessen points out some similarities:
Lying is the message.
Both Putin and Trump frequently and systematically lie for the same reason: "blatantly, to assert power over truth itself." Putin has consistently lied about Russia's 2014 military occupation of Ukraine's Crimea, often asserting that Russia has no troops in that region, then going on to deny that any fighting had occurred; in 2016, he abruptly shifted his stance and acknowledged that troops were indeed in that region. Gessen writes that Putin's "subsequent shift to truthful statements were not admissions given under duress: they were proud, even boastful affirmatives made at his convenience. Together, they communicated a single message: Putin’s power lies in being able to say what he wants, when he wants, regardless of the facts. He is president of his country and king of reality." Trump does the same thing, Gessen says, claiming that he never said something he is on record as having said, or making wild, baseless claims without a shred of evidence to back them and then doubling down on them when called on to prove them. Trump, she writes, "is not making easily disprovable factual claims: he is claiming control over reality itself." This is why Trump repeatedly lies about the nonexistent "election fraud" that he says cost him millions of votes, or his consistent attacks on the US intelligence community's fact-based claims that Russia hacked the election. "Trump was demonstrating his ability to say whatever he wanted about the election, precisely because he had won it," she writes. Many journalists were "devastated" by his election, she writes, because his win seemed to repudiate their work: no fact-checking or reporting on his verifiable hypocrisy had a real impact. "It felt like we had entered a world in which the media no longer had a job to do, or in which its relevance as a check on power had been entirely neutralized." Trump has pushed the envelope even further since his election: since reporters are obligated to include Trump's comments on news stories about him, they have to add Trump's dismissal or contradiction of their carefully assembled stories. Trump refuses to be constrained by facts or reality; like Putin, he asserts his power over those concepts.
The media is the mirror.
Both Trump and Putin are thin-skinned and openly hostile to journalists who fail to behave like sycophants. Like Putin, Trump has declared his intention to deny reporters anywhere near the access they have previously enjoyed to the White House. Gessen notes that Trump seems to rely on right-wing outlets for his news and punditry, heavily favoring Breitbart News over other sources. "It appears that Trump receives a view of the world that is vastly different from that not just of the 'liberal bubble' but of the majority of Americans," she writes. Further, media sources that he does not use are, in his estimation, worthless and may actually be his enemies. Similarly, he ignores briefings from his State Department and intelligence agencies, preferring to rely on reports from his favorite right-wing media sources. "[H]e will insist on seeing only as much of the world as is convenient for him, through a prism that pleases him," Gessen writes. For his part, Putin clamped down on Russian media shortly after his elevation to power; moreover, he seems to get his world news from his own propaganda outlets. Putin lives "in a different reality," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2014.
Taking charge of a boring world.
Both Putin and Trump are, Gessen asserts, "lazy and uninterested in the world they want to dominate." Putin and Trump both spend relatively little time preparing for meetings or reading over briefing materials, preferring rather to improvise and make what Gessen calls "grand public gestures, often ones that are at odds with established policy." What Putin does on Russian television, Trump does on Twitter and television alike. Gessen cites Trump's specious claims that he alone persuaded Boeing to cancel a contract to ship jobs overseas, a contract that never existed. Both Trump and Putin behave this way to assert their power and dominance. "Such actions will have no measurable result on policy, but they can have a corrosive effect on free enterprise, and civil society, and the culture of government. In Russia, years of sporadic micromanagement have rendered the government dysfunctional and corrupt: things will not happen unless the head of an agency or the president himself intervenes." Gessen says that the US government will probably not become as paralyzed as the Russian government has under Putin; instead, a "parallel power structure" will likely develop, with officials keeping out of Trump's awareness while doing their jobs.
Interests rather than priorities.
Like Putin, Trump chooses high-level administration officials by his interests rather than his priorities. Gessen writes, "But Trump, much like Putin, has neither views nor priorities: he has a thirst for power, and he has interests." He likes the military, so he chooses generals for a number of jobs. He has no interest in foreign policy, so he appointed a spectacularly unqualified person, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, to head the State Department; similarly, he chose another unqualified person, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, to serve as Ambassador to the UN. Gessen quotes Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, who calls the kind of government Putin built the "mafia state." Such a government is, she says, "run like a family by a patriarch who distributes money, power, and favors. Magyar uses the word 'family' to mean a clan of people with longstanding associations; it is important that one cannot enter the family unless invited – 'adopted,' in Bálint's terminology – and one cannot leave the family voluntarily. In this model the family is built on loyalty, not blood relations, but Trump is bringing his literal family into the White House. By inviting a few hand-picked people into the areas that interest him personally, he may be creating a mafia state within a state. Like all mafias, this one is driven primarily by greed." Trump is installing his daughter, his son-in-law, and possibly his sons into high positions in his White House, along with family and business friends and associates. "They will concern themselves with issues of interest to the president, and with enrichment of themselves and their allies. The outer circle will be handed issues in which Trump is less interested. In practical terms, this will mean that the establishment Republicans in the cabinet will be able to pursue a radically conservative program on many areas of policy, without regard to views Trump may or may not hold, and this will keep the Republican Party satisfied with a president it once didn't want."
A president behind enemy lines.
Trump has repeatedly chosen people to head agencies who oppose the mission of those very same agencies. The Secretary of Education wants to dismantle public education; the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development wants to dismantle public housing; the Secretary of Health and Human Services wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid; the Secretary of Labor despises unions and labor rights; the Secretary of Energy ran his presidential campaign on the platform of dismantling the agency. Like Putin, Trump intends to oversee the destruction of those elements of government of which he does not approve. One of his biggest targets is the US intelligence community; how that will play out remains to be seen. Gessen writes: "He will continue to view the government as the enemy even when he is running it. When he promised to 'drain the swamp,' he did not mean that he would clean up the government so it could serve the American people better. He meant that he viewed the government as it is currently constituted as fundamentally flawed, not only unworthy of maintaining but fit to be dismissed and destroyed."
The chosen one.
In 2012, Gessen wrote a biography of Putin that asserted he was an ordinary man of limited intelligence who had schemed his way into a position for which he was vastly unsuitable. Both Putin and Trump consider themselves "chosen" by destiny, and perhaps by God, to lead their respective countries. Their qualifications are meaningless. Gessen concludes: "In both cases, however, the sense of being chosen lends itself to a blurring of borders between the president and the state. Putin has long equated opposition to him with opposition to the Russian state itself. His perception of mass protests as enemy action stemmed at least in part from this conflation. Trump, with his tweets about stripping flag burners of US citizenship, seems headed down the same mental road: the electors have not even voted yet, but Trump already thinks that he is the United States and citizenship is his to grant and revoke." (New York Review of Books)
December 15, 2016: Trump Defends Putin's Record of Murdering Journalists
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Donald Trump defends Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin's practice of having journalists murdered. Referencing Putin's recent statements calling Trump "brilliant," co-hist Mika Brzezinski asks if Trump likes Putin's compliments. "Sure," he replies. "When people call you brilliant it's always good, especially when the person heads up Russia."
Co-host Joe Scarborough then notes, "Well, also a person that kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously, that would be a concern, would it not?" Trump counters by defending Trump: "He's running his country and at least he's a leader. You know, unlike what we have in this country [referring to President Obama]." Scarborough presses, "But again, he kills journalists that don't agree with him." Trump replies: "Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe. There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on and a lot of stupidity and that’s the way it is." Scarborough provides an opportunity for Trump to backpedal, asking, "I'm confused. So you obviously condemn Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?" Trump responds, "Oh sure, absolutely," but then returns to praising Putin. (National Review)
— 2017 —
January 24, 2017: Trump Uses Kremlin Propaganda Tactics to Achieve Personal, Political Goals
Salon columnist Chauncey DeVega writes of Donald Trump's use of Kremlin-style propaganda tactics to advance his presidential aspirations and personal/policy goals. DeVega writes, "Donald Trump's political strategy is torn directly out of Russia and Vladimir Putin's playbook."
DeVega cites Ukrainian-American military officer and writer Roman Skaskiw in citing Trump's use of several "core principles of Russian propaganda":
Rely on dissenting political groups in Western countries for dissemination.
Domestic propaganda is most important.
Destroy and ridicule the idea of truth.
"Putin is strong. Russia is strong."
Headlines are more important than reality, especially while first impressions are forming.
Move the conversation.
Pollute the information space.
Gas lighting – accuse the enemy of doing what you are doing to confuse the conversation.
DeVega writes that Trump and his spokespersons, like many in the conservative media, "appeal to 'alternative facts,' employ fake news and other forms of disinformation, exploit and amplify dissent between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions of the Democratic Party and deploy Orwellian Newspeak." In Trump's view, America is a wasteland of crime and inequality, and only his iron-fisted leadership can restore the nation to its former prominence. "Trump's people use Twitter and other social media to cause controversy and distraction, as well as to spread bullying behavior and insults, threats of violence against his political rivals, militant nationalism and conspiracy theories about 'illegal' voters," DeVega writes. "All of this represents a direct application of Russian propaganda strategies to American politics." Both Trump and Putin are authoritarians with overtones of fascism. However, Trump's success was built on a decades-old infrastructure of far-right news, "fake news," conspiracy theories, and an ever-increasing strategy of demonizing the enemies of conservatism. The strategy for both Putin and Trump is simple: create a false narrative based on a thin skein of actual facts interwoven with lies, suppositions and conspiracy theories, and, when accused of lying, turn the accusation back on the accuser. DeVega quotes Granta's Peter Pomerantsev, who recently wrote: "Putin doesn't need to have a more convincing story, he just has to make it clear that everybody lies, undermine the moral superiority of his enemies and convince his people there is no alternative to him. 'When Putin lies brazenly he wants the West to point out that he lies,' says the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, 'so he can point back and say, "but you lie too."' And if everyone is lying then anything goes, whether it’s in your personal life or in invading foreign countries. This is a (dark) joy. All the madness you feel, you can now let it out and it’s okay. The very point of Trump is to validate the pleasure of spouting shit, the joy of pure emotion, often anger, without any sense. And an audience which has already spent a decade living without facts can now indulge in a full, anarchic liberation from coherence." DeVega concludes: "Trump and his apparatchiks lie about matters both small and large because lying is their strategy: These are not gaffes or errors but rather central features of Trump's approach to obtaining and expanding political power." (Salon, Small Wars Journal, Granta)
The Trump administration tries and fails to end US sanctions against Russia as one of its first actions after the inauguration.
February 5-6, 2017: Trump Says US, Putin Government Both "Killers"
Donald Trump gives an interview to Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, in which he again lavishes praise on Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, and declares that Russia and the US governments are quite similar in their approach to handling problems.
Trump says of Putin: "I do respect him. Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn't mean I'll get along with them." O'Reilly notes flatly: "But he's a killer, though. Putin's a killer." Trump retorts by comparing Putin's reputation for having political enemies killed with the US, saying: "There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?" After making that declaration, he goes on to say that the US is "better" getting along with Russia than not, saying, "If Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all around the world, major fight. That's a good thing." Putin has been accused of having numerous political rivals and journalists killed. Trump gives no examples of US presidents having their rivals murdered, nor does he say whether he intends to follow Putin's lead and have his own enemies killed. Republican Senator Marco Rubio posts on Twitter: "When has a Democratic political activists [sic] been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa? We are not the same as Putin." Former CIA Director Michael Morrell says that Trump's statements about Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, in which Trump made a false equivalency between the US and Russian governments, "suggests that he doesn't have a good understanding of what Putin has done over a very long period of time." Republican Senator Ben Sasse says there is no comparison between the US, "the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin's defense on his cronyism." Morell notes that Putin "has killed dozens and dozens of journalists [and] political opponents both inside of Russia and outside of Russia. There's no equivalency between those extrajudicial killings of political opponents and what the United States does overseas under the authority of the President of the United States to defend the United States against serious threats. So it's a very bizarre statement." Asked why Trump has refused to publicly critize Putin, Morell says: "I think he has some special affection for Putin that is a result of something that we don't fully understand. There [are] questions out there about financial ties, there's questions about compromising material. What we saw was Putin praising Trump during the campaign, and Trump in return praising Putin, so it could be as simple as that. But there is some special bond here that seems to be overriding the facts and the interests of the United States of America." (Chicago Tribune, CBS News)
February 16, 2017: Law Prof Shows Trump and Putin's Mutual Interests in Undermining Election Process
Law professor Ryan Goodman writes of what he calls Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump's "shared interest in undermining the election process." The goals of the Russian cyber and propaganda campaign against the US elections were, according to the US intelligence community, to undermine Hillary Clinton's candidacy and to undermine the American electorate's faith in the election process overall.
Goodman writes: "The first ambition rose and fell according to the belief that Mr. Trump's chance of winning was within the realm of possibility. Russia may have largely given up on that ambition … when it looked like Ms. Clinton's victory was more certain," and refocused more strongly on undermining her upcoming presidency. Goodman says that view is too narrow. "Here's what should not be missed: Mr. Trump would directly benefit from the first effort, but he also aligned himself, to a significant degree, with the second effort as well. More specifically, Mr. Putin’s second ambition was fully consistent with Mr. Trump's repeatedly calling the election 'rigged,' and refusing to state that he would accept the election results if Ms. Clinton won. There was a stage in which Mr. Trump thought he might win, and there were long stretches in which he seemed dead set on undermining the public confidence in the election results." Goodman notes that other campaign officials such as Mike Pence and Reince Priebus did not share those positions. Trump's motive for wanting to destroy Americans' faith in the election results remains unexplained, Goodman notes. "Regardless of the specific reason, Mr. Trump's systematic effort to shape public opinion around the idea of a rigged election was not out synch with the Kremlin's own efforts." He concludes, "As you look to the various reasons that Trump's innermost circle may have supported or otherwise colluded with Russia's efforts, it is important to keep this wider focus in mind." (Just Security)
April 13, 2017: Former MI6 Chief: Trump Borrowed Millions from Russia to Stay Afloat in 2008
Former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove accuses Donald Trump of secretly borrowing millions from Russia to keep his financial empire aflat during the 2008 global financial crisis.
In an interview with Prospect magazine, Dearlove says, "What lingers for Trump may be what deals – on what terms – he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the West apparently would not lend to him." International lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who has expertise in Russian affairs, that there is "no question" US intelligence agencies and the FBI know about Trump's financial dealings with Russian interests prior to the election. "Trump's relationship with Russia goes back many, many years. I'm sure the FBI was monitoring it," Amsterdam says. Much of the interview centers around the rise of nationalism in Europe and America, and the resurgence of racism and bigotry as a correlation to the nationalist movement in many countries, including Great Britain and the US. Dearlove says of Trump, "I think he's very strongly nationalist," and says no one can be sure how far the resurgence will go or what possibly catastrophic events it will create. Dearlove also agrees with the US and British intelligence communities that Russia deliberately sabotaged the US presidential election in order to strengthen Trump's chances of winning. "The Russians must be slightly surprised themselves because they disfavored Hillary, but I don't think they necessarily expected Trump to be elected. And had they been confident that Trump was going to be elected they might have not behaved in the way that they have done – do you see what I mean? They wouldn’t have needed to push." Dearlove adds: "If they had worked out that Hillary was going to lose – they were going to have a better relationship with Trump; clearly they wanted Trump to be elected – they might not have unleashed that activity. But once you've started down that route, you can imagine Putin signing off on the operations." (Prospect, London Sun, Independent)
July 4, 2017: Trump Refuses to Prepare for Upcoming Meeting with Putin
Donald Trump is "preparing" for his upcoming meeting with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin in Germany by refusing to study policy briefings in any depth. Instead, he has demanded, and received, vastly truncated briefing documents containing only a few major points, boiled down to 140 characters or less – the maximum length of a Twitter post. He also prefers verbal briefings of a very few minutes.
Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, says, "I worry a little about this meeting because Putin is going to walk into the room very well prepared, and I'm not certain Trump will come into that room prepared." Trump has shown little interest in, for example, the detailed psychological profile that has been prepared for him about Putin, nor is he interested in learning anything in any depth about the myriad foreign policy issues that will be discussed during the meeting. In fact, no one is exactly sure what will be discussed. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster says: "There's no specific agenda. It's really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about." Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says Trump should issue a strong warning to Putin to stay out of American elections. Schiff is doubtful that Trump will issue such a warning. "If he doesn't have the courage to raise the issue, Putin will conclude he can walk over our affairs and the president won't object," Schiff says. "That would be a big mistake." Advisors, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, are trying to prepare a script to keep Trump from being manipulated. Foreign policy expert John Herbst, another former US ambassador to Ukraine, says: "Putin was and is a KGB officer, and KGB officers are specialists at one thing: seduction, how to persuade others to do what you want. The odds are the atmosphere will be good because our president seems to love Putin, even though it is bad policy." Herbst believes Putin will try to flatter Trump in order to convince him that Russia is not a threat, and that NATO is not as important as Trump's Cabinet insists. Trump will also meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Los Angeles Times)
July 12, 2017: Agalarovs Selling New Jersey Mansions After News of June 2016 Trump Jr. Meeting Hits Press
Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his son, Russian pop star and business partner Emin Agalarov, are both selling their luxurious mansions in Alpine, New Jersey, just days after the American press reveals that the Agalarovs set up a meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a number of Russians, some of whom were almost certainly agents of the Kremlin.
Both mansions are on the same street in the same New Jersey community, and both are being sold at a loss. The elder Agalarov's mansion has reputedly already found a buyer, while Emin's mansion, which has been on the market for some time, has yet to attract a committed buyer. The younger Agalarov has owned the property for a year but has never set foot inside the home. (Daily Mail)
July 20, 2017: Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes that Trump has entirely surrendered to Vladimir Putin.
March 20, 2018: Trump Congratulates Putin on Election Victory, Does Not Mention Sanctions, Nerve Agent Attack, or Russian Cyberattacks
Donald Trump personally calls Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his re-election as Russia's leader. The election was never in doubt, as Putin had no interest in running a fair or free election. Trump refuses to mention the fact that Putin and the Kremlin launched a successful effort to sabotage the US 2016 presidential elections, nor does he mention the recent Russian nerve agent attack on two Russian citizens in Britain. He also fails to discuss the recent sanctions against Russia imposed by the US government.
Trump ignored an all-caps warning from his staff in his briefing notes for the call that read, "DO NOT CONGRATULATE." The notes also advised him to discuss the nerve agent attack, which he refused to do. One aide later says Trump never bothered to look at the notes. Instead, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells reporters it isn't the place of the US to criticize other nations for their elections, contradicting decades of US policy and the Trump administration's own criticisms of election practices in Venezuela and Iran. "What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that's not something we can dictate to them how they operate," she says. "We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections, something we 100 percent fully support." Republican lawmakers offered muted criticism of Trump's effusive call to Putin. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says: "When I look at a Russian election, what I see is a lack of credibility in tallying the results. I'm always reminded of the election they used to have in almost every communist country where whoever the dictator was at the moment always got a huge percentage of the vote. … Calling him wouldn't have been high on my list." Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) says of the call, "I wouldn't read too much into it." The only Republican to take a harsher stance is Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who says in a statement: "An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country's future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin's regime." Vice President Biden's Deputy National Security Advisor Julie Smith says: "It's blatantly obvious that he has just an inexplicable level of support for President Putin. You keep thinking it will change as he sees his own administration take action – that this never-ending well of support for Putin will somehow subside. It's disheartening at a time when our transatlantic partners really need a boost. Europe is looking to us for leadership on Russia in particular, and they're not getting it." Foreign policy expert Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution says the call is "a sign he wants a pro-Russia foreign policy," adding: "Everyone is trying to figure out what does this mean. Russia hawks say, 'Pay attention to us, but not to the president or to the tweets.' But the reality is, his reaction is policy. The fact that there hasn't been a stronger sanctions response to the poisoning so far is policy." (New York Times, Washington Post)
Trump and his apparatchiks lie about matters both small and large because lying is their strategy: These are not gaffes or errors but rather central features of Trump's approach to obtaining and expanding political power. — Chauncey DeVega