The Coming Crisis – And A Realistic Solution To It

The Coming Crisis – And A Realistic Solution To It

Donald Trump’s July 16th press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin should leave no doubt in the minds of objective observers that Putin holds a powerful sway over America’s President. Such bewildering influence by a hostile foreign adversary poses a major risk to our national security. At best, our President is woefully gullible. At worst – and given his body language, this seems a safe assumption – he is being blackmailed or otherwise compromised by the Russians.

President Trump’s Helsinki performance has left our nation – and our long-time allies – wondering: what was agreed to in that one-on-one meeting? Has a secure back channel now been established between the two leaders to enable ongoing real-time conversations, instructions and coercion that avoid detection by our national security agencies? Was the Helsinki meeting recorded by Putin to use to further blackmail the President? Has Trump been given a strategy to secretly help Putin and Russia’s oligarchs get at their money despite strong American sanctions like the Magnitsky Act (LINK)? What other instructions might have been given by this former Soviet intelligence officer, who would love to see the downfall of the U.S. and collapse of the West as retribution for the fall of the U.S.S.R.?

It seems increasingly possible that the person currently at the helm of our nation is not someone who should be trusted with our nation’s interests. Real but yet-unseen damage may already have been done since his inauguration. The danger to our country in a situation like this cannot be understated: Putin is not our friend.

Our Constitution thankfully provides a useful but flawed remedy to a corrupt, compromised, incapacitated, or mentally ill President: as we all know by now, the 25th Amendment allows Congress to remove the President from office as the ultimate check on his or her power. However, I believe that we may well be in a situation unforeseen by our great Constitution – one that can lead to a catastrophic crisis for America.

Most of us have watched Congress’s ongoing feeble or even enabling responses to President Trump through the lens of American politics. We believe that they are being blindly partisan, and that they are willfully putting their own re-election and the Republican Party over the wellbeing of the country. We should pray that this is all that we are seeing.

Glenn Simpson is a man who was hired by a DNC law firm to gather intelligence on Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, and who hired former British spy Christopher Steele as part of his information gathering. Simpson was brought before the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017and gave lengthy, detailed and credible testimony about his activities.

At one point, he described why he left his position as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. His beat of choice was Russian corruption and the possibility of Russian involvement in Washington DC. But the Wall Street Journal had lost interest in this topic: it was not as “sexy” and headline-grabbing as terrorism in the years immediately following 9/11.

Yet in talking to his sources in 2009, Glenn Simpson was hearing that “everyone said the Russians are back, and they are buying influence in Washington left and right, and they are trying to bribe all these Congressmen.”

This observation – paired in particular with the behavior of Congresspersons like Devin Nunes (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and French Hill (R-AR) – raises the question: what if our U.S. legislature is as compromised by Russia as our President appears to be? What if members of the branch of government entrusted to be a check on Presidential power would not only be disgraced, but possibly criminally prosecuted, if the extent of Russia’s activities were fully exposed? What if the “kompromat” that Russia has on them is at the very least the funneling of Kremlin money (through American collaborators) into their campaigns?

When Congress convened on January 2, 2017 for the first time after Trump’s election, the Republican leadership’s very first move – at night, behind closed doors, with no advance discussion – was to remove independent ethics oversight for Congress. Why was that? In the strong public backlash that followed the next day, they quickly reversed themselves, but the fact that that was their first agenda item is curious.

Since Trump’s inauguration, we have also seen a startling number of U.S. Congresspersons announce that they will not run for re-election. One of those – announced a day or two after news broke of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office being raided by the FBI – is House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

I do not personally believe that Paul Ryan is directly compromised by Russia. However, I believe that he is aware of at least some of what is being held over his fellow Republican legislators. I believe that he, as Speaker of the House, has made the decision to remain silent and encourage the rest of his partisan lawmakers to do the same in order to avoid disgracing the GOP. I believe that he has decided not to seek re-election is because the weight of this is worrisome and uncomfortable for him, and he would prefer to just fade into the woodwork before the Trump indictments start rolling in.

In a way, this is complicity. If one were to watch the murder of a person, rather than a democracy, without notifying law enforcement of what they knew, one would be held legally responsible for that decision. And the longer that one held to that decision, the more legally culpable one would become. This may be the difficult position in which some or all Republican legislators who are not directly compromised by Russia find themselves. They all may have something to feel deeply uneasy about.

If Congress is compromised or complicit, it would be absolutely outrageous – a betrayal of our country by those whom we have most entrusted to protect it. There would be an impulse to see legislators punished severely for their actions, for selling out their country – our country – particularly as they spent years hypocritically branding people the left as spineless and soft on America’s foreign enemies.

Yet in venting our moral outrage, we are still stuck with the concrete legal problem: we need those same compromised or complicit Republican legislators – elected to a majority in both houses of Congress – to hold the executive branch in check. Depending on the outcome of the Mueller investigation, we may need them to not just be a check, but to actually remove Donald Trump from office. And if the President knows that the legislature is compromised, he could threaten to take them all down with him – his own form of kompromat. Which puts us in the silent stalemate between branches of government that I believe we have already been in for over a year.

Although our Constitution does not provide us with a legal remedy for this situation, we can be grateful to countries like South Africa who have provided us with a workable model for addressing and moving forward from horrific acts: amnesty.

My proposal is this.

If, as anticipated by many, Mueller’s investigation turns up evidence of impeachable acts by the President, all sitting members of the House and Senate – Republican and Democrat – should immediately be granted a short period (say, five days) during which they can confess to any ways that Russia has compromised them (including being silent about their knowledge of fellow compromised legislators) and any actions that they took because they were compromised – without fear of criminal prosecution.

These will not be detailed confessions, but merely public acknowledgments of how they have been compromised, so that the truth gets quickly out into the open. Anyone who is guilty but has not admitted so by the end of this short amnesty period can and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Congress should then be required to swiftly take the appropriate action to remove the President from office.

As part of their amnesty terms, those Congresspersons who have confessed must agree to step down from office at the end of their term, and to cooperate fully with law enforcement and U.S. intelligence to determine exactly how they became compromised and what they know of any Russian operations, so that those operations can be thwarted, neutralized or minimized by our national security community.

The advantages of this solution are many:

  • It enables our country to move through a dire and unforeseen crisis gracefully and with minimal disruption
  • It helps restore confidence in the functioning of our system going forward – at least in regard to Russian influence
  • It ensures that most or all of the compromised or complicit legislators – whom we might not otherwise know are compromised or complicit – will not continue to serve
  • It removes more bad (or unreliable) actors from the system than would other solutions
  • It avoids a lengthy, costly and ultimately less effective federal investigation of potentially hundreds of sitting Congresspersons
  • It makes the whole truth abundantly clear to all – including Trump supporters who may be in deep denial – and thereby reduces the domestic strife that may arise in the wake of President Trump being removed from office
  • It transparency reassures America’s allies that we can once again be trusted not to be pushing Russia’s agenda
  • It gives our intelligence community a clear and thorough understanding of what has been done and what to watch for in the future
  • By putting the truth out in the open for all to see, it sets the stage for a national conversation that may help heal and reunite a deeply divided nation

One thing seems certain: Donald Trump may be at times persuaded to say the right thing regarding Vladimir Putin, but waiting for him to do the right thing on the issue of Russia is a waste of time. Putin will always ultimately come out ahead of America with this President.

– rob rünt

When Will He Wake Up About Putin?

When Will He Wake Up About Putin?

Remember during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, when political pundits and career politicians soberly asserted that if Donald Trump won the election, he would rise to the dignity and magnitude of the office? And once he won the election and nothing changed, they asserted that spending time in the job would surely change him? And although the change still didn’t materialize, they nonetheless held out hope, pouncing on isolated incidents like his scripted first State of the Union address as evidence that now he was finally becoming Presidential. Until he returns to his usual behavior within hours.

The same thing seems to be happening in regards to Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki. Politicians and journalists have been asking aghast for over a year “How can President Trump possibly trust Putin?” “Why doesn’t he realize that Putin isn’t our friend?” etc. These questions are even asked regularly by bright commentators who should know better. Their framing of the issue in this way not only misses the mark, but imposes a naïve bias on America’s predicament which (possibly inaccurately) colors public perception about what is happening.

Nobody but Donald Trump can possibly know whether or not he trusts Vladimir Putin. It is just as possible – if not more so – that he does not trust Putin at all, but is being aggressively blackmailed by the Russian President, and is profoundly terrified of him. Of course, that is not a dignified assumption for the media to make about the President of the United States, but neither is assuming that he is some wide eyed boob who is too foolish or totalitariophilic to recognize a major and obvious threat to our nation about which he has been warned continuously and repeatedly for the entirety of his time in office.

We are in a potentially perilous time right now. Yet many of us seem to be eager to assume the best-case scenario about what is happening, even after witnessing the President’s subservience to Putin with our own eyes – his shell-shocked, slumping, dead-man-walking body language as the two emerged from their private meeting and Putin jauntily strode to the podium, his refusal to hold Putin in any way accountable for actions that America’s own intelligence community have told him undeniably took place.

We need to prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that what we are seeing is exactly what it looks like: a self-centered, emotionally immature man who has lived a life of impulsive desire fulfillment, lack of accountability, and petty one-upsmanship, whose wealth, behavior and influence brought him to the attention of Russian intelligence long ago as a U.S. person upon whom to compile a dossier of “kompromat,” who is now realizing to his own horror that his past behavior and his present job are conflicting in a way that can lead to deep embarrassment and humiliation at best, and prison time for him and his associates at worst.

The first step to acknowledging and bracing ourselves for this potential reality is to stop asking why the President does not realize that Putin is a threat, and to accept that he may already understand the threat of Vladimir Putin all to well.

– rob rünt

“Finish It The Hell Up!”

“Finish It The Hell Up!”

Those words were spoken by U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), expressing frustration over what he sees as the slow pace of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. Gowdy’s words reflect a perception among many on the right, fed and amplified by the likes of Fox News, that Mueller’s team is dawdling, and that a lack of charges against the President by now means unquestionably that there is nothing there. Because of the constant repetition of this misconception in some circles, some clarification is needed.

First, Gowdy’s statement is ironic, since the House Judiciary Committee, led by Trey Gowdy, spent 30 months investigating Hillary Clinton’s possible role in the Benghazi attack between May 8, 2014 and December 12, 2016. While Benghazi was a serious incident, it was far less consequential than a U.S. President being assisted by a hostile foreign adversary to get elected. We are currently in the 14th month of the Mueller investigation, which began on May 17, 2017. And as Special Counsel investigations go, this one has taken a relatively short length of time thus far. The chart below was published by the Washington Post.

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It is also important to look at the types of crimes that Mueller is likely investigating. Steve Bannon reportedly said “this is all about money laundering.” I believe that Trump knowingly or unknowingly laundered money for Russian oligarchs and Russian organized crime figures for decades. There is an abundance of evidence of Trump real estate deals with Russians in which Trump properties were purchased at an inflated price and quickly resold for a significantly lower price, and in which properties were paid for with all cash – telltale signs of money laundering. An example would be the sight-unseen sale of a Palm Beach mansion to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev (whose yacht and plane coincidentally appeared numerous times near Trump campaign events).

Money laundering is an intentionally complex and opaque crime. That’s the point of money laundering: the goal is to disguise the original illegitimate source of the money by processing it – often through multiple opaque transactions, shell companies, etc. – in a way that ultimately makes the money appear legitimate (even if at a loss – at least now it can be used). Money laundering is therefore an extremely time-consuming crime to investigate, and this case likely involves many multiple incidents of it.

In Russia, Putin demands a cut of all illicit money that the Russian mafia and oligarchs take in. If Trump were laundering money (a felony) for them, Putin would absolutely have a long and thorough awareness of that. Such knowledge – far more than any alleged salacious video from the Moscow Ritz Carlton – is likely the “kompromat” (compromising material) that Putin has on Trump, and with which Putin may in fact be blackmailing the President of the United States.

In addition to a lengthy history of money laundering – a clear motive for Trump to cooperate with Russia – Mueller’s team must also look into evidence of cooperation between the Trump Campaign / Trump Transition Team / White House and a foreign government run by a former KGB officer who knows how to cover his tracks. Potential witnesses and participants from Russia cannot be subpoenaed, and also know that they could potentially be murdered or jailed if they choose to offer evidence or testimony to Mueller. Those witnesses must therefore be presumed inaccessible.

Even so, you might say, if Trump has been involved in any criminal activity and/or collusion with Russia, Mueller must certainly have evidence of it by now – over a year into the investigation – so Mueller’s silence clearly indicates that he has found no such evidence. I believe that Mueller currently has a ton of evidence against a number of people from Trump’s campaign and possibly against the President himself. But consider what you do when playing poker. Do you pick up your hand and announce excitedly “Hey, I just got two pair! If I get another ace or king. I’ll have a full house!” Or do you keep your mouth shut, betray no emotion, and move calmly forward?

Mueller disclosing the evidence that he has collected at this point could compromise the rest of the investigation in multiple ways. It could tip off wrongdoers about who is providing information and what that information is. It could enable the President to know which facts not to lie about if he is ever interviewed by Mueller, and it could give him time to develop a plausible explanation for those particular facts. It could result in some witnesses being paid off, or if the participants involved are dangerous enough, it could result in witnesses being killed.

Some Republicans have stated the Mueller should let Congress know what evidence has been gathered so far, to prove to them, as part of their oversight responsibility, that the investigation is pursuing real issues and not simply wasting taxpayer money on, as the President calls it, a “witch hunt.” This is a legitimate argument.

Yet many of the same Republicans leading this charge, like U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) – a former member of the Trump Transition Team and currently Chair of the House Intelligence Committee (who should theoretically know better than anyone about the proper handling of sensitive information) – have proven repeatedly that they cannot treat the information with the care that it deserves. Upon getting key information, Nunes has instead chosen to run to tell the President what he has learned, or has called a press conference to be the first to put a spin on the information. Both of these activities jeopardize the investigation by informing potential suspects about an ongoing investigation.

I want to see the Meuller investigation completed as soon as possible – likely for a different reason than Trey Gowdy does. But I also know that what Mueller is likely investigating is extremely complex, involves years of activity long pre-dating the 2016 campaign, involves witnesses who can never be questioned, and involves a Congress whose members cannot all be relied upon to put justice above partisan or selfish interests. So I force myself to be patient and believe that justice will prevail.

Of all the people in this situation, I trust Robert Mueller the most. Until the President and Fox News began their slanderous drumbeat to tarnish his name and reputation, Mueller was known to Republicans and Democrats alike as a brilliant and solid law enforcement official of unwavering integrity. That was why he was approved for his current responsibilities by both parties in an otherwise deeply divided House and Senate. Mueller is still the same man that he was before the smear campaign began, and I will trust whatever outcome he and his team arrive at, even if that outcome is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing by the President.

– rob rünt