Friday, August 4, 2017

From Russia With Chaos

Yesterday news broke that Robert Mueller, special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's entanglement with Russian operatives, had convened a grand jury, which enables him to subpoena documents and compel testimony under oath.

So what's up with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign that has so discombobulated the president?

1. The first issue is the meetings that took place between Trump associates and persons affiliated in some manner with the regime of Vladimir Putin. The character of these meetings and the topics of discussion range from mere contact with a presidential campaign through discussion of issues of interest (adoption, the Magnitsky act--more on that below) to a possible collusion in order to obtain damaging material on Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent. Collusion becomes an issue because if the Russian operatives are handing over damaging material that is unknown to others, two questions emerge: What did they want in return and was the Trump campaign willing to give it? If the meetings were harmless and innocent, why did the campaign, notably Trump's son and son-in-law, pretend the meetings did not happen, fail to mention them in required disclosure forms, offer different versions of the meetings until at last the truth emerged?

Yet these meetings, as unsavory as it may be for a presidential campaign to consort with a foreign power in order to win an election--to use a hostile regime to put down a domestic foe--these meetings do not constitute an ongoing problem for the president. His base of support is not swayed by the disclosures and it would seem that no obvious legal infraction has taken place.

2. A second issue is the alleged file of possible sexual escapades during visits to Russia. It is not known if such a file, including video, exists. This is another non-issue as it doesn't seem to matter to Trump's supporters. His adulterous lifestyle, including a lack of restraint over his hands that is ingrained into every child--keep them to yourself!--his infamous remark that represented the 2016 election's 'October Surprise,' and his overall misogyny have done nothing to undermine the support he receives from his base, including the Moral Majority, better known as evangelical, conservative Christians. It is a mystery as to why they excuse Trump's behavior, but they do, and these allegations that come with a murky undertone of possible blackmail have been generally dismissed by the populace.

3. A third issue could be the sanctions, which Trump despises, and his desire to ease or end them in order to have better relations with Putin's government. Putin's behavior in the world, the annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, his threats to his neighbors, and more may compel Trump's admiration, but these are political and diplomatic issues, not legal ones.

From here we now depart what is known or can be deduced from reports and enter into the world of sheer speculation. This is only a possibility. Mueller's investigation will uncover the truth.

SPECULATION: One thing really got Trump's goat in the ongoing inquiries and that was when Mueller expanded his investigation to cover Trump's financial dealings with Russian investors. That was when Trump issued a public warning to Mueller that he had better not cross a line, whatever that line marks off.

To acquire and develop his properties, Trump has utilized Russian investors. What if these same investors are the oligarchs targeted by the Magnitsky Act?

For those who don't know, the Magnitsky Act was passed in late 2012 to identify and sanction persons who were known to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating corruption. The passage of the act enraged Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by ending adoption of sick Russian orphans by U.S. citizens.

What if Russian investments in Trump properties are tied up in the sanctions and that is at the heart of Trump's desire to ease sanctions? Or worse, what if these investments, maybe not directly by the named individuals but by associates, front men or shadow companies, are circumventing the law and allowing the oligarchs to avoid the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act? What if Trump is allowing his properties to be used to launder these assets such that the oligarchs can get them out of the country?

Only speculation, an attempt to look at all the possibilities for why the Russian investigation is driving Trump bonkers. I don't know that any of this is true, nor do I think it probable, but it would explain a lot.

That is why the Mueller investigation must be allowed to run its course. In the end, if Trump has nothing to hide, he will be exonerated.

Whatever the outcome, I believe the Magnitsky Act will be playing a significant role.

In ending, Trump dismisses the investigation and all allegations as fake news, but he has tried to shut down the investigation in many ways. Congress doesn't agree on much, but it has a bipartisan solidarity in standing up to Russia meddling in U.S. affairs, an approach Trump does not share.

He has the Clinton problem. Remember the Whitewater Affair? For two people who maintained their innocence, Bill and Hillary acted like they were guilty. Same with Trump. If he and his people are innocent, what does he fear from Mueller's investigation?